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  • Impressive Displays from Hardaway, Ntilikina for Naught as Knicks Fall to Towns, T’Wolves at Home

Impressive Displays from Hardaway, Ntilikina for Naught as Knicks Fall to Towns, T’Wolves at Home

Photo: via Knicks.com
Beset with an ankle injury, Mudiay, who started, rested in the second half in favor of Ntilikina, who shone with a pretty jumper and nice defense while Hardaway abused the T’Wolves in transition for another 30-plus-point night in Friday’s home loss.

Needing a fire lit under them, the New York Knicks (26–47), led by a flamethrower-wielding Tim Hardaway Jr., fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves (42–32) at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

The team fell behind by nine points at halftime, but a third-quarter run with key contributions from Hardaway Jr. brought the Knicks back in contention before the awesome rebounding of Greater New York (read: New Jersey) native Karl-Anthony Towns saved Minnesota’s skin, with the Timberwolves prevailing 108–104.

The ‘Bockers couldn’t handle pick-and-roll coverage in the first half, letting Towns slip through the seam and find the basket for a few rim-rattling dunks. By the second half, head coach Jeff Hornacek preferred the running game, letting THJ take the ball to the hoop in transition. It worked in the Knicks’ favor; Hardaway scored a career-high 39 points on Friday. Strangely, the Knicks probably needed the ball in Timmy’s hands even more—normally the shot-chucking Hardaway makes gaffes and tries to shoot himself out of cold spells, but fledgling Michael Beasley iso’s proved fatal in nixing the flow of New York’s offense.

The Wolves, led by the efficient former no. 1 overall pick Towns, played a rounded-out game with every starter scoring in double digits. Additionally, Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau ran a short rotation, opting to play only three members of the team’s bench in true Thibs fashion (Towns played 41 minutes, Andrew Wiggins and former Bull Taj Gibson 38 apiece). So, arguably, the feather in the cap of the Knicks’ Friday loss can be … they hung around and would have won against a team without a coach so hell-bent on playing his key contributors nearly forty minutes (maybe take that as a win?).

Friday was also a display for rookie Frank Ntilikina‘s ceiling as a two-way player. Ntilikina did not start; however, with a flare up of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay‘s ankle, Hornacek inserted the Frenchman into the starting unit after halftime (and after Mudiay didn’t play in the second quarter) thus giving Frank a full 37 minutes of court action—the guard’s longest time on the floor in one contest so far. Frank finished with 13 points on 5-of-12 from the floor, as well as two triples (wearing my rose-tinted, optimistic glasses: Frank was 5-of-10 and 2-of-3 from the field and from three, respectively, before missing two late threes late into the game if you wanted more context to his shooting numbers tonight). Nonetheless, Ntili provided some stellar defense, too, having to match up with Jamal Crawford and Wiggins for stretches, the rookie holding his own and forcing tough fadeaway shots from the aforementioned members of the Wolf pack.

What did we learn from Friday night’s loss at the Garden? Well, when Hardaway can turn it on, he really amps electricity into the building, despite his characteristically streaky shooting. Another lesson: Luke Kornet… tough game for the Vanderbilt product, really. Kornet has been shuttled between Westchester and Manhattan during his rookie season and tonight the wears and tears showed as he tried—emphasis on tried—to match up against the awe-inspiring might of Towns and capable backup center-forward Gorgui Dieng, from Tennessee-bordering neighbor of Kentucky’s University of Louisville.

And yeah, another line of praise for Hardaway here because he actually deserved it tonight (frankly, I’ve been critical of both the signing and his up-and-down play in his homecoming season). THJ scored 39 points on 25 shots, including some crazy-difficult three-point attempts (making 6-of-11). Hardaway Jr. also poked the ball loose for three steals total, which allowed him (and at times the springy Troy Williams) to get out on the fast break and wreak havoc. Also, Enes Kanter had a double-double but was no force in stopping Towns (much of the league cannot, too). Also also, off the bench, Trey Burke led the team in assists, nine, on Friday while providing some efficient shooting with the second unit (while getting minutes down the stretch in backcourt tandem with Frank).

Lastly, Nate “KryptoNate” Robinson was in the building as his old Knicks buddy Jamal Crawford was largely ineffective for the T’Wolves. Hardaway laid circa 2007 Knicks epitome J-Crossover to waste and into retirement with this move:

Good night, y’all, rise and shine for Sunday’s 6 p.m. battle with Bradley Beal and the Wizards in the nation’s capital.

Check out the Knicks Film School breakdown of the Wolves game, featuring Frank’s two-way performance:

Managing Editor of The Knicks Wall. Still not over the ’94 Finals. Andy Bernard levels of Cornell love.

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