Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina has a breakthrough game
Frank Ntilikina acknowledged he had been thinking too much during the previous few games and admitted he might have hit the rookie wall. But he busted through it Monday, and at just the right time for the Knicks.
They allowed a 14-point lead over the Nets to be cut to two and needed a fourth-quarter spark to help avoid another collapse. Ntilikina provided it. He played a strong fourth quarter on both ends of the court and produced his first career double-double in the Knicks’ 119-104 victory at Barclays Center.
Ntilikina flirted with a triple-double and finished with 10 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He was a team-best plus-17.
“Frank’s an amazing player,” Michael Beasley said. “He has to learn what pace he wants to go. But as soon as he figures it out, Frank will be an easy triple-double guy. Easy triple-double.”
In the fourth quarter, Ntilikina set the tone for how the Knicks would finish the game, blocking a shot by Caris LeVert on the opening possession. After allowing 39 points in the third quarter, they held the Nets to 23 in the fourth and scored 36 themselves.
Ntilikina had five assists in the fourth, three of them to Beasley, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
“I played more naturally,” Ntilikina said. “I did what I can do on the court, stopped thinking too much and just helped my team and my teammates.”
Jeff Hornacek saw more edge in Ntilikina’s game. “He played with some fire,” he said. “Loose balls that it seemed like he had been tentative to go for lately, he got a big one there in the fourth quarter. He ripped it out of the pile and we went off on a break. He just played with, I think, confidence.
“He played with some fire, some activity. He pushed the ball up the court. He didn’t walk it up. That’s kind of the Frank we know. We’ve seen him do that several times this year, so we need more of that.”
This was the start of a season-high seven-game road trip, and Hornacek probably will use his bench more to try to keep legs and bodies fresh. Ntilikina should get an opportunity to show he can do this more often in the near future.
It was a huge step-up from the previous three games, when Ntilikina totaled two points, eight assists and nine turnovers. Trey Burke’s arrival could have lit a fire under him, but he denied that. “I feel motivated every day,” Ntilikina said. “My last [few] games were not that good, so I learned [from] it.
“I was like, ‘Let’s go, stop thinking about it.’ I was thinking too much in these games. I just said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s bring what I can to the team.’ And I just played out there like I can do most of the time. I have to watch this game and keep playing like that consistently.”
Courtney Lee sank his only free-throw attempt and tied Chris Duhon’s franchise mark of 44 consecutive free throws made . . . Burke, who was signed Sunday, had five points and two assists in eight minutes in his Knicks debut . . . The Knicks’ bench contributed 70 points, 36 rebounds and 20 assists . . . The Knicks are 5-15 on the road. Two of the victories have come in Brooklyn.