By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks beat the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, the best team in the Eastern Conference. And they did it with Kristaps Porzingis scoring one point on 0-of-11 shooting. They did it with Michael Beasley leading the team with 32 points on just 20 shots in 25 minutes. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and got “MVP” chants from the Garden crowd.
It was easily the Knicks’ best win of the year. This is why sports are still the ultimate reality show and why you have to play the games. Anything can happen.
What are the Knicks? It’s possible that they could fight their way into a low playoff seed. It also wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Knicks completely cratered during their upcoming road trip and ended up drafting in the top eight. The Knicks are still a mystery, and Thursday night did nothing to reveal what they’re really all about.
This one was hard to explain. Beasley looked like the best offensive player in the NBA in the second half. He was scorching hot and was the type of unstoppable offensive force that NBA scouts envisioned when he was drafted second overall in 2008. Amazingly, he didn’t hurt the team with bad decision making, turnovers, shoddy defense and a lack of hustle like he did in the first half and does in most of his other appearances. The good Michael Beasley doesn’t show up often, but this was one of those nights.
Some of that credit belongs to coach Jeff Hornacek, who was wise to surround Beasley with a bunch of defensive-minded players who needed him to score. Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn were all happy to play off the ball and let a red-hot Beasley do his thing. By playing Beasley with players like that, you hide his weaknesses and are able to survive with him on the floor without hemorrhaging defensively.
Hornacek also deserves credit for staying with the second unit for nearly the entire fourth quarter and not giving into the temptation to go back to Porzingis, Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee. He stuck with what worked, which can be difficult when the opponent begins to make a run.
The Knicks’ defense in the fourth quarter was the unspoken part of the game. The Celtics scored 25 points in the final quarter but shot under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from behind the arc. Ntilikina and Baker continued to play stellar backcourt defense and are proving to be an effective defensive pair. They combined to hold Kyrie Irving to 3-of-7 shooting and nine points.
Ntilikina continued to show up offensively, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and hitting two 3s. His four turnovers (two thanks to hounding defense by Marcus Smart) were disappointing, but his aggression taking it to the basket off the dribble continues to progress. His shooting also improved with two big 3s in the fourth quarter.
Porzingis’ performance can’t be considered anything but a huge disappointment. Now his two worst performances of the season have both come against the Celtics. His jumper looked flat, and he began forcing bad shots once he missed some early ones. The Celtics are the best defensive team in the league. That didn’t bother Beasley, but it did bother Porzingis.
So what are the Knicks? I have no idea. Are they contenders in the East, or was this just a freak showing by a talented but very inconsistent Beasley? Are they a product of a predominantly home schedule early in the season, or can they continue to win when they hit the road with more regularity? The Knicks have two games remaining until their stretch when they play 14 of 17 on the road. This group still has plenty to prove. The jury is out.
At least for one night, the Knicks gave the Garden crowd their best win of the season.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk