Ron Baker couldn’t help but smile as he stood in front of his locker Sunday night. The Knicks guard was tired and sore and happier than he’s been in a long time.
It hasn’t been an easy season for Baker, who has been fighting ankle and shoulder injuries. Still, despite accumulating 18 DNPs and a few trips down to the G League with the West chester Knicks, Baker was more than ready when coach Jeff Hornacek called on him to play major minutes in the Knicks’ 111-107 win over Atlanta at Madison Square Garden.
Baker had nine points, four assists and two steals in a season-high 31 minutes. He could see more time in the near future as starting shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is out for at least another week with a stress injury in his lower left leg.
“The last two games the coach has told me, ‘Hey, be active and be ready to go. We want to have an extra ballhandler out there tonight,’ ’’ Baker said. “He said make sure you check personnel and be ready to go, which is kind of the tip he’s given me.”
Baker’s teammates were inspired by his performance, especially considering it was the first time since very early in the season that he had been called upon to play meaningful minutes. Baker played all but 1:12 of the fourth quarter in a game that wasn’t decided until the final minute.
“I look at a person like Ron Baker right now. He hasn’t played in a nice little time,” said point guard Jarrett Jack, who scored a season-high 19 points. “Every day I see Ron working. I see him practicing hard. I see him getting extra shots. I see him getting extra sprints when everybody is kind of getting ready to kind of end practice and go about their day.
“Coach called his name. I’m not sure if Coach kind of let him know that he was going to get put in the rotation, but Coach called his name and Ron came in and was a tremendous lift for us. Defensively, made a couple of plays. On offense, winning plays. I think he adds a grittiness and a toughness to our ballclub and I was proud of him tonight.”
Baker played in 52 games in his rookie season and was rewarded with a two-year deal that will pay him $4.3 million this season and $4.5 million next season. In the wake of that, dealing with the injuries and DNPs hasn’t been easy. That’s why, even though he was sore, he had an ear-to-ear smile Sunday night.
Said Baker: “I’m a little tired. I got an ice tub in. Obviously, it feels good to win. You can contribute when you’re not on the court. But when you’re on the court, [winning] feels even better.”