There were some rare sights and sounds inside Madison Square Garden Saturday night. Knicks players were jumping off the bench and waving their towels, the crowd was cheering instead of grumbling, and at the end of the game, the scoreboard had more points for the home team than the visiting team.
The Knicks did something they hadn’t done in seven weeks — they won at the Garden. March Madness, indeed.
They built a 38-point second-half lead and coasted to a 124-101 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. No, that is not a misprint. The Knicks snapped a nine-game overall losing streak and an eight-game home skid.
The Knicks’ most recent win at the Garden had come on Jan. 30 against the Nets. “We were just tired of losing,” rookie Frank Ntilikina said after scoring a career-high 15 points. “We showed it tonight. We played with so much energy. Losing that much games had an impact on us for tonight.”
Of course, the win won’t help the Knicks’ draft position and will draw the ire of the fans who want them to lose out. With the win and Chicago’s loss, the Knicks (25-45) fell to ninth place, a half-game behind the Bulls (24-45) in the lottery standings. Chicago will visit the Garden on Monday in a big swing game for lottery position.
The Knicks may not be playing for anything in terms of the playoffs, but they played with energy and passion, shared the ball and defended Saturday night. They looked like a team that wanted to experience a win for a change. This was their second victory in the last 19 games and first since Feb. 22.
Afterward, players were talking loudly and laughing — also rare sights and sounds. “It was just a great feeling,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “That’s what we had at the beginning of the season. It was great to get that back for this game.”
The Knicks are one of the worst third-quarter teams in the league, but they outscored the Hornets 42-17 in the third, their highest-scoring quarter of the season, and turned a seven-point edge into a 99-67 lead.
Hardaway had 25 points, Trey Burke added 14, Troy Williams had 13 and undrafted rookie forward Isaiah Hicks shot 5-for-5 and had a career-high 12.
With Jeff Hornacek giving more time to the young players, Jarrett Jack hadn’t played in the previous 10 games after making 56 starts, but he got a chance to play in the fourth quarter. “He’s been a professional. He’s helping our young guys out in practice,” Hornacek said. “Any time a situation like that, let’s get him in there and play. I kind of asked him. He goes, ‘Heck, yeah, let me go in.’ He’s great.”
Dwight Howard had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Charlotte (30-40). Former Knick Willy Hernangomez had nine points and six rebounds in 12 minutes.
On Friday, Hornacek challenged his players during a video session. He asked them if they hate to lose more than they want to win, with the belief that if their hatred of losing is greater, they will make the necessary plays. He said a few Knicks have that mentality, particularly Hardaway, Lance Thomas and Enes Kanter.
Hornacek saw that “extra fire” he hoped for in his players’ eyes and praised Thomas’ defense for sparking that third-quarter run.
“That message was actually one of the keys, and to maybe wake some players on this team, I mean wake everybody up,” Ntilikina said.
“The guys are happy,” Hornacek said. “It’s never fun to come in after a game and you lost. Overall, I thought that every guy that stepped out there really contributed and added to the win. For us, we need everybody to do that.”