This time, there was no one throwing insults at the Knicks. This time, there was no LeBron James stirring the pregame pot. This time, it was just an average NBA night featuring an average opponent that was missing its best player.
Two days removed from a painful and emotional loss to James and the Cavaliers, the Knicks had a golden opportunity to come out and make a statement of resiliency Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz.
It took some time, but that’s exactly what they did in their 106-101 win. In what was a contrast to their loss to Cleveland, the Knicks played their best basketball at the end of the game. And the result was they won for the eighth time in their last 11 games.
“For us to come back here and go out and compete and go out on the floor the way we did, it means a lot and shows the mental toughness of this group,” swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. said.
The Knicks outscored the Jazz 29-19 in the fourth quarter and Hardaway played a pivotal role, scoring 14 of his 26 points in the period. Among them were a driving layup that gave the Knicks their first lead since early in the game and a three-pointer that gave the Knicks a 102-98 lead with 32 seconds remaining.
“Tim is doing a great job for us,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We need that activity, that cutting. He’s one of those guys who can attack the basket for us . . . The way he’s playing defense and scrambling is a big reason we’re winning games.”
One of the biggest knocks on the Knicks this season is that they are a one-horse offense, that they have no consistent weapon after Kristaps Porzingis. Hardaway, after getting off to a brutal start, is pushing to become that second guy.
Over his last 10 games, Hardaway is averaging 22 points and 5.4 rebounds. His overall percentage from three-point range could be better, but he is starting to make them when it matters. On Wednesday night he was 2-for-3 from downtown in the third quarter.
Hardaway’s slow start may have something to do with the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the four-year, $71-million contract the team handed him. Or it just may be, as he said early in the year, that he gets off to slow starts. Either way, he is talking like a guy who wants to be that No. 2 weapon, who wants to be KP’s right-hand swingman.
“I just want to find a way to stay consistent as a ballplayer and I know my team wants me to do that,” Hardaway said.
Even more promising for Knicks fans is that Hardaway is starting to show some of that mental toughness that made his father such a Knicks villain when he was playing for the Heat in the 1990s.
“You’ve go to want it. You’ve got to want it, man,” Hardaway said when asked what he was thinking when he pulled up to take his final three. “We’ve got KP in a lot of those situations, but he trusts us now, too.”
The Knicks are an exciting team, but they still have plenty of flaws, the biggest being an incredibly inconsistent defense. After the team gave up 60 points in the first half, Hornacek remarked that he didn’t consider defense to be standing four feet off a guy while holding a hand up. Yet the fact they can rebound from that kind of half, even against a mediocre team, does say something about the direction they are going.
Said Hardaway: “We went in the locker room and didn’t hold our heads at halftime. We came back out and switched up what we were doing.”
That’s a sign of resiliency.