CHICAGO — The Knicks starting unit had put together what may have been the ugliest stretch of the season to start the game Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, managing just 13 points against the NBA’s worst team, the Houston Rockets. So it may have seemed odd that it was on this night that Evan Fournier would emerge from his late-game hibernation he’s had imposed on him.
Fournier had done little early to provide a hint that this would come, but it might have been as much a matter of survival of the fittest as RJ Barrett struggled through a miserable performance and Derrick Rose was uncharacteristically off. So Fournier, who had three points in the first quarter before a promising six minutes of action in the second quarter, got his chance after four straight games of sitting out the entire fourth quarter.
It may have provided mixed results. Fournier had just two points in the fourth quarter, airballing his two attempts beyond the arc. But he was a part of a game-saving rally that saved the Knicks the embarrassment of being the team that finally broke the Rockets’ plunge to the bottom of the standings. Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel of the second unit may have been the real saviors on this night, but Fournier was a piece at least.
"It’s fun to play in the fourth quarter," Fournier said afterward. "To be honest, this is what I expected. I know what I am capable of and what I can bring. I have to make sure I play really well during those minutes that I have. Hopefully, things are going to go well. As long as we win, and we are playing well that is what matters."
It put a stop in what had been an odd stretch with Fournier sitting out the fourth quarter not only in the last four games, but six of the last seven, after signing a $78 million free agent contract to join the Knicks, hardly what the expectations were when the Knicks recruited him.
"We've seen it throughout his career," Thibodeau said. "And so, players, particularly new players, when they come into a new team, you have to give them the chance to work through it. And so, I think that that's coming. He's had some really good games and he has had some games where he couldn't find his rhythm. And we've got to help him.
"Everyone has a responsibility to help the team. So whatever it is that you can do to help your teammate play, that's what you got to do. The priority has to be, you sacrifice for the team, the team has to come first. And when we do that we're a really good team."
It is just 16 games in and while Fournier has had his moments, like the 32-point opening night performance when he helped carry the Knicks to a double-overtime win, he has seemed lost of late. He has appeared in the fourth quarter of only eight of the 16 games and is averaging six fourth-quarter minutes in those games.
His first half to second half splits are astoundingly different — shooting 47.5% from the floor and 43.1 from three-point range in the first half and just 32.9% overall and 23.1% from three in the second half. Fournier’s worst performance has come in the third quarters when he has been a minus-3.7 in his minutes and shot just 30.2% overall and 20.7% from beyond the arc — which might explain why Thibodeau has not gone back to him late in games.
"Very inconsistent obviously," Fournier said of his play before Saturday. "Kind of like what we’ve been doing as a team, to be honest We’ve had really good games. We’ve had bad games. How many games? In  games you’ve seen my best and worst already. So you know from that standpoint, there’s only one thing to do. That’s keep working and keep having a winning attitude and do everything I can really. I have no doubt that things are going to turn out and become better for myself and for the team. I have no doubt about that."