It came down to one play.
LeBron James, one of the greatest players in basketball history, had the ball in his hands. All that stood between him and a win was Knicks forward Mario Hezonja, a third-year player who was seeing his first court time in more than a month.
And, most improbably, Hezonja came out the winner.
Hezonja blocked a 13-foot runner by James to clinch a 124-123 Knicks win and cap an incredible defensive fourth quarter against one of the hardest covers in the game.
Hezonja, who was mobbed by his teammates afterward, said he had always dreamed of making a game-winning play. He just never thought it would be on defense.
“That’s what I was saying to Scott Perry and Steve Mills after the game,” Hezonja said in reference to the Knicks’ general manager and president. “I said if you sign me because of this defense, you’re crazy.”
Hezonja said he has been trying to make himself an indispensable two-way player because that’s what NBA teams need most in today’s fast-paced game. Hezonja helped hold James to 4-for-15 shooting in the final quarter.
“He just missed shots. Don’t get that twisted,” said Hezonja, who had 17 points and eight rebounds after sitting out the previous 12 games with a sore leg. “If you are saying you are the reason he’s missing shots, you are an idiot. Pretty simple.
"We did a good job of sending him where he doesn’t like to be. If I can say that, because he likes to be everywhere. But yeah, overall good job by the team on playing defense.”
Hezonja said he first found out he was going to be the main guy on James seconds before he walked onto the court.
“I felt like he was a guy who could battle LeBron athletically,” coach David Fizdale said. “I thought Mario would be a good matchup on him.”
Hezonja had one advantage over James: the fact that he is 10 years younger. He said he tried to do everything he could to wear him down in the course of the game.
“If I didn’t do that, then I didn’t do a good job,” he added. “I hope I did because I was picking him up fullcourt for the entire game. Any time he was with the ball, I was trying to get him tired. So if he wasn’t tired, I know he’s a monster and I didn’t do a good job.”