On paper, it will go down as a win against the worst team in the league — a come-from-behind effort sparked by Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks bench. In reality, it was a frantic effort to avoid complete humiliation at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, who spent three quarters running circles around their floundering big brothers.
In a game where three Knicks starters — including Carmelo Anthony — were benched for the entirety of the fourth quarter, the Knicks bench fought back and was the beneficiary of a classic Nets collapse in the 95-90 win at Barclays Center.
Porzingis scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and his dunk with 5:42 to go proved to be the go-ahead basket for the Knicks, who trailed by as many as 11 late in the third. Anthony, who didn’t play a single second of the fourth, shot 6-for-22 — an effort that Jeff Hornacek attributed to fatigue.
“I looked up one time, there was like five minutes, I was like, ‘Ain’t no way I’m going back in there,’ ” Anthony said. “These guys had it rolling, there wasn’t no need for us to go back in there and kind of break up what they had going on.”
Hornacek was forced to pull Joakim Noah, who played only 13 minutes and contributed three points and seven rebounds, and Courtney Lee, who also didn’t play in the fourth.
“Those guys that came off the bench — Sasha hasn’t played in a while — gave us a big lift,” Hornacek said. “Willy [Hernangomez] was great on the boards . . . just the energy those guys brought.”
This is only the Knicks’ sixth win in their last 22 games. Willy Hernangomez scored eight of his 16 in the fourth and added 16 rebounds for a double-double on back-to-back days. Sasha Vujacic scored 12 — including a pivotal four-point play in the second quarter that helped keep the Knicks in the mix. Keyed by Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, the Knicks took off on a 7-2 run to end the third quarter, getting to within 69-64 entering the fourth.
Just like everyone else in the league, the Knicks fully benefitted from the Nets inability to close a game — something that’s become so expected and so routine, it seems wrong to even call them “heartbreakers” anymore. “We’re a humble group right now,” Kenny Atkinson said before the game. “I would say we are off Broadway right now and we’re trying to get on.”
The Nets led the Knicks 45-38 at halftime in a game that was marked by mental mistakes and plain old sloppy basketball. The Nets outscored the Knicks 30-22 in the paint in the first half and held them to 29.8 percent from the floor. Though “held” might be generous — the Knicks committed 10 of their turnovers in that span and regularly missed open shots. Caris LeVert — who scored all 10 of his points in the first half — was the only player to register in the double digits before the third quarter. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the Nets (9-40) with 16.
“It was an important win for us,” Hernangomez said. “We know they have big guys. [(Brook] Lopez is one of the best centers in the league, and from the beginning we focused on being aggressive and I always try to go the rebounds aggressive and the whole team did a great job on this part of the game.”
The Nets led by as many as 12 in the second quarter before a 10-3 Knicks run, but the Knicks wasted a prime opportunity to gain ground with a little more than three minutes left. Vujacic drew them to within two on a four-point play, and his midcourt steal in the next possession went over to Anthony, who missed an open jumper. The Knicks eventually tied it at 35 with 3:03 to go, before a 10-3 Nets run.
The Nets went 1-15 in January and don’t appear to have any relief in sight.
“The picked up their intensity, picked up their heat,” Kenny Atkinson said on the Knicks fourth-quarter effort. “We turned it over, we didn’t get the type of shots we wanted and I thought they started getting second and third shots. It’s tough to give any team in the NBA multiple shots at the rim.”