Important question for Jeff Hornacek: Have you been waking up to the same song every morning? Was Wednesday’s newspaper on your front porch yesterday?
It may be a few months early for Groundhog Day, but on Friday night, Hornacek’s Knicks did a fairly spot-on recreation of their game two nights earlier. Again, they played the Timberwolves. Again, they built an early lead and looked primed to cruise to an easy victory. And again, it disappeared in a frenzied fourth quarter that would have the most even-keeled coach questioning his sanity.
It wasn’t quite what it was Wednesday night, when Carmelo Anthony’s basket with two seconds left gave the Knicks a two-point victory, but it certainly was headed that way.
Kyle O’Quinn, playing for the injured Joakim Noah, helped bring the Knicks back Friday night, but not without a few queasy moments. Minnesota made up a 14-point third-quarter deficit in the fourth quarter and even went ahead by one before the Knicks went on a 9-2 run en route to a 118-114 win at the Garden.
“I think that’s what the team is about,” O’Quinn said when asked about stepping in. “It feels really good. Winning feels good. Guys are enjoying it. As you can see, guys are having fun. Winning always feels good.”
O’Quinn scored 20 points and pulled down five of his 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter Anthony led the Knicks with 29 points and Derrick Rose had 24 (eight in the fourth). Zach LaVine led the Timberwolves with 23 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 — two nights after contributing 47 points and 18 rebounds against the Knicks.
The Timberwolves (5-14) took off on a 12-2 run to start the fourth quarter, and Shabazz Muhammad’s dunk tied it at 100 with 8:01 left. LaVine’s dunk with 6:34 left put them ahead 102-101. But O’Quinn’s layup with 6:13 to go put the Knicks ahead for good and he hit two free throws seconds later. Anthony’s breakaway layup with 1:21 left gave the Knicks a six-point lead.
Before that, the story had been Towns, but not the way it usually is. Maybe it was O’Quinn, maybe it was something in the hot dog water, but on Friday night, Towns’ 7-foot frame didn’t loom as large as it had two nights earlier. He was held scoreless for almost the entire first half before sinking a layup with 1:18 left and two free throws after that (mind you, he finished with 20).
“KO played great tonight,” Rose said of O’Quinn. “[Kristaps Porzingis] and KO played great together defensively . . . sending Towns to spots so we could help them and making it hard for him, contesting the shots and just playing physical.”
The Knicks (10-9) moved over .500 for only the second time this season, and to 4-0 with O’Quinn instead of Noah, whose nagging injuries mean he is being well paid to take a seat. And for the first three quarters, they didn’t seem to miss Courtney Lee (ankle) much, either: They opened the game on a 14-5 run, went up 80-66 in the third quarter and actually looked well on their way to an easy “W.”
Anthony emerged from his shooting slump with a 9-for-20 outing, including 5-for-10 from three-point range.
“We wish we would have put them away,” Rose said, “but we’re still improving, we’re still trying to figure out who we are as a team, finding our identity, and it takes all of us being on the same page, but it’s coming.”
And hey, despite the missteps, the Knicks recreated Wednesday in the best way possible: They came out with the win. But don’t blame Hornacek for wanting to wake up to a different tune today.