NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Timofey Mozgov’s initiation to NBA life was so shaky that he eventually went to the bench and stayed there for three weeks.
He earned himself another shot Sunday night.
“I’m excited about this, because I want to play,” Mozgov said.
The rookie had season highs of 23 points and 14 rebounds in his first appearance since Jan. 9, and the New York Knicks beat the Detroit Pistons 124-106 on Sunday night.
Amar’e Stoudemire scored 33 points despite a sprained right knee and Danilo Gallinari added 29 for the Knicks, who seized control early in the fourth quarter after it was tied through three. Gallinari made two 3-pointers in a decisive 12-2 burst to open the final period, with coach Mike D’Antoni saying it might have been his best game of the season.
But the night belonged to Mozgov.
The Knicks were without starting forward Wilson Chandler (sore left calf) and key reserve Shawne Williams, who was suspended for throwing a punch in Atlanta on Friday night. Ronny Turiaf started but was quickly in foul trouble, forcing D’Antoni to go deep down his bench to Mozgov, the starting center early in the season before falling out of the rotation entirely.
The Russian played 40 minutes and was treated to loud “Mozgov! Mozgov!” chants in the final minute.
“I was really excited. Really good to listen. They were really nice,” Mozgov said. “I don’t know how to say it in English, but it’s great.”
Gallinari opened the fourth with a tiebreaking 3-pointer that gave the Knicks the lead for good, then Mozgov slammed home a follow dunk. Gallinari added another 3 before Raymond Felton’s bucket capped the run and made it 103-93, and New York went on to win for the third time in four games.
“It was important for us to defend tonight. We knew that. It seemed like we wanted to make it the OK Corral in regards to a shootout,” Pistons coach John Kuester said. “The score was 91-91 at the end of the third and you got a chance. We’ve got to defend. We had to pick up a couple of stops in a row and just seemed like we never did it. They took advantage of our not ability to guard the ball the way we’re capable of.”
Ben Gordon made seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 35 points for the Pistons, who have lost three in a row. Rookie Greg Monroe had 15 points and 17 rebounds.
The Knicks started 8 of 11, then missed their next nine shots — four of them by Mozgov — until he dunked in a miss by Stoudemire. Mozgov quickly got another dunk, which seemed to settle him down.
He had nine points in his first nine minutes and finished 9 of 15 from the floor.
“He just wasn’t flustered,” D’Antoni said. “It just seemed like he was going to way too fast earlier (in the season).”
Mozgov helped take some pressure inside away from Stoudemire, who was hurt Friday and grabbed only six rebounds. Stoudemire went down and appeared to be in pain after banging his left knee with a Detroit player on a drive in the fourth quarter, but got up and played on, scoring 26 points after halftime.
“He played great,” Stoudemire said. “He’s one of those players where he keeps working and keeps trying to improve. He’s a young player. Coaching staff did a great job.”
The Knicks also gave Anthony Randolph his first minutes since Jan. 7, but he was scoreless.
The Knicks wanted to play fast, with the word “pace” written all over their locker room board. But Detroit had no problem keeping up, shooting 60 percent in the first quarter and staying there until a little more than 2 minutes remaining in the half.
Charlie Villanueva’s 11 points in the second quarter included two 3-pointers in the final 47 seconds as Detroit took a 62-60 halftime lead.
Gordon, who grew up in nearby Mount Vernon, N.Y., was a Big East tournament MVP award while playing for Connecticut and earned the nickname “Madison Square Gordon” for his big moments here, scored 16 in the third quarter before Stoudemire’s follow dunk with 1 second remaining tied it at 91.
“It’s our defense,” Gordon said. “Obviously it’s a great scoring team, but I felt like they got way too many uncontested layups, shots. We didn’t show up defensively. That’s the most frustrating part.”
NOTES: Knicks president Donnie Walsh said through a spokesman he had “nothing to report” about a Yahoo Sports! report that he had agreed to hire former Denver Nuggets general manager Mark Warkentien as a high-level consultant. … Kuester on Knicks’ rookie Landry Fields, a second-round draft pick: “What a steal. I’m telling you, he’s an outstanding basketball player. People do not realize how good of a basketball player and understanding of the game that he has. Great rebounder for a guy his size, understands how to play the game and very impressed.” … D’Antoni didn’t get a chance to see Mike Krzyzewski, whom he assists on the U.S. Olympic team. Krzyzewski had a rough afternoon in the opener of a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden, where No. 3 Duke lost 93-78 to St. John’s. “He’s won a few games,” D’Antoni said, “he’ll be all right.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.