Tuesday night, Knicks president Phil Jackson reclined in his customary seat at Madison Square Garden near center court, approximately 25 feet behind the scorer’s table. To his direct right was his former teammate Bill Bradley from the franchise’s championship days of the early 70s, the erstwhile three-term Democratic U.S. senator and Knick icon, whose number 24 hangs retired in the building’s rafters.
Jackson revealed a barely noticeable approving smile while Bradley showed far more outward emotion, throwing both arms skyward as the Knicks closed out the Portland Trailblazers 107-103, solidified by a clutch Derrick Rose jumper with 6.8 seconds remaining.
“I’m not here to … brag,” said Rose afterward, “but I’m used to being in positions where I have the ball in my hands playing in Chicago.” Rose, who won an NBA MVP as a member of the Bulls in the 2010-11 season, finished with 18 points to augment the 31 from the game’s leading scorer, emerging star forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t one to engage in self-congratulatory boasting, either, despite achieving what seemed to be the nearly impossible, which is suppressing, at least for the moment, the incessant talk of the Knicks running the triangle offense, the system that is the structural hallmark of Jackson’s success as a head coach and 2007 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction.
Gradually, Hornacek is molding the Knicks, compelling them to gel as an effective unit on both ends of the court after a wobbly 3-6 start as they reached the .500 mark of 7-7 with Tuesday’s victory. Now they await the Charlotte Hornets’ arrival at the Garden for tomorrow night’s match-up, having won five consecutive games at home and six out of their last seven at MSG, and were only one game behind the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, both of whom were 8-6 at the start of play last night (Wednesday), for first place in the Atlantic Division.
While there are still visible elements of the triangle in the Knicks’ offense, they are running more pick and rolls and often operating a two-man set featuring Carmelo Anthony, Rose, Porzingis and backup point guard Brandon Jennings in several combinations. Hornacek’s Knicks are also pushing the pace much more as a result of Rose’s and Jennings’ speed and their big men running the floor, getting shots earlier in the 24-second shot clock at a higher rate than in any other season since Jackson became president of the Knicks in March 2014. The results have been evident.
“That’s why we came here,” Jennings said of himself and Rose. “We came here to win.” And over the past 10 days, they’ve been meeting that objective.