The lasting image of the Knicks’ just-completed seven-game road trip could have been Tim Hardaway Jr. going down behind the Knicks’ basket, worried about a possible neck injury.
Instead, it was Hardaway getting up.
The lasting image could have been the 130 points the Knicks allowed in a bad loss in Denver on Thursday night. Instead, it was the 85 they gave up the next night in a win in Phoenix. A 45-point difference in 24 hours.
The Knicks finished the trip 3-4 on Friday night with a 107-85 victory over the Suns and won’t play again until they host the Nets on Tuesday night.
Winning three of seven is nothing to write home about. But after three defeats in a row in which the Knicks (22-28) gave up a total of 380 points, Friday night’s win gave them hope that this rebuilding season won’t go off the rails.
“This is a great group,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Us coaches, we love coaching these guys. They may not win every game, but they’re trying their hardest. There’s never any quit in them. We’ve got leaders like Lance Thomas, who when guys are dipping their heads or something, he says it and he wakes guys up. We’re not a 40-10 team, but the group of guys we have like each other, they can get on each other without creating any problems. That’s a great group to work with.”
It was Thomas and Courtney Lee who called a players-only meeting before the Phoenix game. The message was simple: We need to play harder on defense.
“It’s not calling guys out to be negative,” Hornacek said. “It’s to try to spur guys on.”
Nothing spurred on the Knicks more on Friday than the gutsy performance of Hardaway, who sat out Thursday’s game because the Knicks don’t want him playing back-to-backs after he missed 20 games with a stress injury in his lower left leg.
Hardaway got hurt twice on Friday, and both times it looked bad. He went down in the first quarter and grabbed his right ankle, but stayed in. The second time was scarier. He was heading to the basket with a breakaway opportunity when he was grabbed on the right shoulder and the back of his jersey by Phoenix’s Devin Booker.
Hardaway went down hard and stayed down for quite a while behind the Knicks’ basket. He said he was concerned that he had suffered a neck injury.
“I just didn’t want to move,” he said. “Just make sure I just stayed there. I just wanted to make sure I stayed still and made sure I was OK to move around.”
Eventually, Hardaway got up and Booker was called for a flagrant foul 1.
Hardaway limped to the free-throw line and hit two shots before heading to the locker room to get checked out. He later returned to the game as the Knicks went up by as many as 27 in the fourth quarter. He finished with 15 points.
Hardaway didn’t take offense to Booker’s foul, citing a “no- layup-rule” mentality and calling it a “just a hard foul.”
His teammates didn’t feel the same, though. Enes Kanter let Booker know it less than five minutes later when he blocked the guard’s shot and appeared to say something uncomplimentary. Booker responded by bumping and shoving Kanter, which earned Booker an ejection for his second technical foul.
“We needed just that juice,” Kanter said. “We needed that energy . . . We need some little dirtiness. We needed that. That fired the whole bench up. That fired us up.”