Knox, Frank, Kornet, Hezonja shine in Knicks loss

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On Sunday, the Knicks came as close to a win as you can get without actually getting one. Maybe for them, in a season that may be defined more by lottery balls than victories, that’s ok. There’s no question David Fizdale disagrees, and would have liked to get this one, but if you’re adding up moral victories, New York fighting back from 24 down to have a shot to tie it as time expired definitely qualifies.

In a 108-105 loss, the Knicks had several things to be happy about, both team-wise and individually. As a unit, New York passed the ball with a purpose more than they have in some time, compiling 24 dimes and employing some nice off-ball player movement throughout the game. They also played what was arguably their best defensive half of the season, holding the Sixers to 42 second half points. Do either of those things happen if Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway see time on the floor? Your guess is as good as mine.

Individually, four Knicks stood out above the fray. Kevin Knox jumps off the stat sheet the quickest, as he had a career-high 31 points. After getting roasted early, he also picked up his defense over the latter portion of the game. He played another high-minutes game, totaling 44. A trial by fire if there ever was one.

For as great as Knox’s game was, for those watching, he may have been the third most impressive Knick on the afternoon. Luke Kornet was an astounding plus 25 in 34 minutes, which is unreal. He has opened up the conversation about whether he is a part of this team’s core moving forward, not only for his shooting exploits (7-of-13, 3-of-8 from deep) but for his effort on defense. No he isn’t good, but he tries his butt off, and he even got in Embiid’s head at times.

Of course, there was also Frank. For maybe the first time all season, we saw a complete, two-way game from Ntilikina – one that stood out as much for what he didn’t do as what he did. He didn’t think; he just played. Despite only finishing 4-of-11 from the field for nine points (and six assists, many of them quite pretty), Ntilikina played the way the coaches have been imploring. That Fizdale eschewed his usual substitution patterns and checked Frank back into the game for the final five minutes (to play alongside Mudiay, granted) should not go unnoticed.

Lastly, Mario Hezonja’s continued strong play should not go unnoticed. He had another two steals, giving him 13 in the last four games, and his defense, especially on ball, has been exquisite. On offense, he seems to be finding the balance that has eluded him all year, his missed highlight reel dunk aside. Maybe there’s more juice left in this orange after all.

Lastly, of note, Allonzo Trier continues to struggle, and it seems his playing time has finally become a casualty. He saw only 12 minutes in a game that Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t play.

New York now crosses the pond for a game in London vs the Wizards, who lost to the Raptors today in double overtime, 140-138. Stopping Bradley Beal (43 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds today…yeesh) won’t be easy, but if today is any indication, the Fiz Kids will be up for the challenge.

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