Tuesday night, the noise level at Madison Square Garden was as loud as it has been in years for a Knicks game.
Kristaps Porzingis shook off the Charlotte Hornets’ 6-foot-3 rookie guard Malik Monk, who was caught on the 7-foot-3 Porzingis at the top of the key after a switch, and drove the length of lane, extending his long right arm and softly laying the ball in the basket. The nearly 20,000 in attendance erupted as Porzingis, who earlier in the evening was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, gave the Knicks a 116-113 lead with 11 seconds remaining and delivered their sixth win in the past seven games.
The 118-113 victory over the Hornets was the Knicks’ second straight improbable comeback win, as they trailed both the Indiana Pacers Sunday, and then the Hornets by double digits in the fourth quarter. They were 6-4 when they faced the Orlando Magic last night on the road and have suddenly become the darlings of the fall here in New York. Most endearingly to their fan base, the Knicks have dramatically become a defensive oriented team.
“I think it comes down to accountability,” said Knicks forward Lance Thomas, who has been instrumental in the team trending upward after a 0-3 start to the season. “We hold each other accountable. If someone is not where they’re supposed to be, we all say it.”
With Porzingis emerging as one of the league’s young stars, setting the franchise record Tuesday for the most points through 10 games of a season with 300, breaking Bernard King’s mark of 298 set during the 1984-85 campaign, the Knicks are playing with an air of confidence, trust and self-assuredness not seen since the 2012-13 season, when they finished 54-28 and were Atlantic Division champions.
No one expects them to come close to approaching that win total, just to continue to develop and progress as a collective unit. “You can tell these last couple of games we’re playing our hearts out out there on the floor and that’s what I love about this team,” said Porzingis Tuesday night. “We have a great atmosphere inside of the team and that shows on the court. We stay together throughout the game, we don’t ever give up, and then we were able to win those close games.”
Head coach Jeff Hornacek has been a significant presence in fostering the team’s unity and positive results. He has judiciously utilized his roster, deftly maximizing the veterans while developing 19-year-old rookie Frank Ntilikina, who early on has shown signs of being a future elite NBA point guard.
The Knicks still have 71 games remaining, practically an entire season. So much can happen that can change their current upward trajectory to a downward slope as has been the case so often over the past decade with this franchise. But things feel different now, starting with how president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry are going about their job of rebuilding the organization. Finally, there is plausible hope permeating the Knicks.