Knicks fans knew what they were seeing, even if no one had ever seen it before.
When Kemba Walker’s 10th rebound was posted on the scoreboard midway through the fourth quarter on Saturday against the Hawks, a huge cheer went up at Madison Square Garden.
Soon fans were chanting Walker’s name, followed by him acknowledging the crowd with a broad smile.
And there it was: The first Christmas triple-double for the team whose 54 games on the holiday are more than any other team, a tradition that dates to 1947.
Walker finished with 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 101-87 victory over COVID-19-depleted Atlanta as he continued a remarkable return from a nine-game benching.
"It was amazing; it was amazing," Walker, a Bronx native, said of the fans’ reaction. "Those are moments you dream about, you know? It’s kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest.
"But it was special, just to be home with that ‘New York’ on my chest. I’m a New York City kid, born and raised. It felt amazing."
In the first three games after coach Tom Thibodeau was forced to go back to Walker because of a personnel shortage, the 31-year-old guard scored 29, 21 and 44 points.
On Saturday, his shooting was a modest 3-for-12 from the field, but he distributed the ball effectively. Thibodeau called Walker’s passing "terrific."
"I think we’re just feeding off each other," said Julius Randle, who had one of his best games of the season with 25 points and 12 rebounds. He shot 9-for-15 overall and 6-for-9 from three-point range.
Quentin Grimes had 15 points off the bench, shooting 5-for-12 from outside the arc in his return from the COVID-19 list. Evan Fournier also had 15 and Obi Toppin added 13 in 13:41 off the bench.
Walker has averaged 26.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.0 turnover in 40:10 in four starts since his extended benching. Asked to reflect on his improbable week, he said, "I’m over it. It doesn’t matter anymore at this point. I just take it as a blessing. I think it was a blessing in disguise, to be honest.
"God just works in mysterious ways, man. He’s blessed me. He’s helped me stay humble, grounded and he just got me through a tough situation. I just continued to work . . . Everything happens for a reason, man."
The Knicks (15-18) badly needed the win, having lost nine of their previous 12 games and six of their past seven at home. It was their first victory on Christmas since 2011, ending a six-game losing streak.
The Hawks (15-17) were without eight players on the COVID-19 list, including star guard Trae Young, whose strained relationship with Garden fans was one of the attractions of the matchup when it originally was scheduled.
The Knicks hit their first seven shots, including five three-pointers, and took a 19-3 lead 4:12 into the game. The Hawks got within four in the second quarter and six in the third, but the Knicks led by as many as 21 in the fourth. They wound up shooting 20-for-50 from beyond the arc.
John Collins and Delon Wright scored 20 points apiece for Atlanta.
Walker agreed with Thibodeau’s assessment that he has been more aggressive since his return to action.
"I have a tendency of kind of not wanting to step on toes, and I think that’s what I did early on," he said. "I wasn’t being as aggressive, I think, as I could have been."
It was Walker's third career triple-double and first since 2014, and the seventh by any NBA player on Christmas Day.
He said he was well aware he needed a 10th rebound for the milestone and was determined to get it. He finally did with 6:25 left when Mitchell Robinson blocked a driving shot by the Hawks' Cam Reddish and it went right to Walker.
"I’m happy for him," Randle said. "I’m sure when he signed to come here this is kind of what he envisioned, playing the kind of basketball he’s playing right now."
Walker said he had played only once before on Christmas.
"Definitely a very special Christmas, definitely a very special moment to be playing at home in New York, the crowd going wild," he said. "It was fun."