New York came out on top in a big road game against the Dallas Mavericks, 100-96.

This was a must win for the Knicks. Coming into tonight they had lost three straight games. In Dallas, they had lost three straight games 17 of their last 20. I don’t know what it is about Texas, but the Knicks do not play well there.

Kristaps Porzingis and his teammates’ energy levels have been the talk of the town, but tonight that was not an issue. Enes Kanter set the tempo early which helped Porzingis ease into the game versus forcing offense. The rest of the offense was a patchwork effort as spare points were hard to come by with Michael Beasley out of action with an ankle injury. They ended the half with a 56-52 lead, which could have been bigger had the ball security been better.

Following a strong first half, the Knicks were forced to endure a longer halftime than usual. Derek Harper’s jersey retirement seemed to have the same running time as The Godfather, going 21 minutes over the usual overtime period. That messed up the flow of the game, but Porzingis took over in the third quarter with ten points. Despite the strong play from him and Kanter, the Mavs managed to play to a draw in the third.

To close it out, Hornacek gave the keys to the rookie. Frank Ntilikina and Kyle O’Quinn played huge minutes and helped the Knicks extend the lead to as much as twelve points. O’Quinn in particular was huge down the stretch. He finished with 15 points and 11 boards as he played huge minutes in crunch time.

But what would any Knick game be without a rocky finish.? After trailing 90-77, the Mavs stormed back to tie it 92-92. The officials let the game get extremely physical, which turned the final two minutes into a rock fight. Jarrett Jack hit the game winner with a nice floater right over the top of the Dallas defense.

They fought for this one, and I mean that literally. Here were the keys storylines from the 100-96 win.

Coming Out Strong

The first quarter means a lot more for the Knicks than it does for others. They have yet to win a road game when trailing after the first period. Already in unfriendly confines, the Knicks played to their strengths. While the Mavs meandered around the perimeter, the plan for the Knicks was to attack down low.

The duo of Kanter and KP should be enforcing their will every game. The games they do that from the jump usually turn out in favor of New York. Tonight, it was Kanter and Jarrett Jack who got the Knicks going. Kanter attacked ruthlessly. He feasted on any Mavs defender thrown his way.

Kanter has carved out a Wee Bey role to Porzingis’ Avon Barksdale. Coming out aggressive in a must-have game to help get the team started proves how vital he is to their success. He notched a first half double-double, and when he’s in you can feel the Knicks put more pressure on the opposing team.

Jack is not far behind. He drove relentlessly as he put pressure on the Mavs to stop him. He totaled eight points in the first frame, including a nice circus finish. Their aggressiveness rubbed off as the team got off to a strong start, shooting 73.7 percent from the field and a perfect two-for-two from deep.

Porzingis in particular benefitted. Thanks to Kanter and Jack attacking early, KP did not have to force his offense. He eased into the flow of the game. The result was 11 points on an efficient five-of-seven from the field.

Secure the Bag

Today, Jarrett Jack’s contract became official. It looked like a foregone conclusion now, but at beginning of the season that was far from the case. The Knicks front office has been impressed with Jack’s leadership on and off the floor this season, and thus guaranteeing his contract was a formality more than anything.

To make good on their decision, Jack set the tempo for the game. As mentioned, he put pressure on the defense early. He may not have the sleight of foot he once had, but he still looks to get to the rack. Matched up against Dennis Smith Jr., Jack had him under pressure in the first half.

In the second half, he continued to contribute where needed. He added five more assists and hit what ended up being the game winner. He was worth the money tonight, just as he had been the whole season.

Frank vs. DSJ

The talk of this game was going to center around these two young guards. Smith Jr. was passed on by the Knicks in the draft in favor of Frankie. LeBron only added fuel to the fire when he said DSJ “should be a Knick” a couple months back. In the first half, neither looked like anything special. Frankie had a triple trey (three points, three rebounds, three assists) with a block and a steal. His counterpart had four assists, two boards, one steal and five points including a buzzer-beating three to go into the half.

In the second half, Frankie began to prove why he was the right pick. Smith Jr. finished with more points (11), but Frank helped in more departments (seven points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and one steal). In the fourth quarter, he helped build the lead up. Smith Jr., on the other hand remained on the bench as Carlisle went with his veterans.

Sure, cheering for DSJ would have been fun. But it’s not what the Knicks needed. They needed a defensive minded player. That guy was Frank–or Donovan Mitchell, but that’s a conversation for a later date.

Willy Watch

If you did a double take in the first half to make sure Willy Hernangomez was indeed in the game, you’re not alone. The timing of Willy’s first first half action in quite some time is intriguing. Yesterday, news trickled out that teams are interested in Willy as a possible target as the trade deadline nears. As of now, the Knicks would like to hold onto their young big, instead more interested in dealing Kyle O’Quinn–who notched his fourth double-double of the season tonight– and is expected to opt-out at the end of the season.

Knowing all that, what are we to make of Willy’s minutes? Was it a showcase or training? He not only played his native position of center, but also bumped down to the four. He shared the court with O’Quinn in the second quarter, but did not do much in his five minutes of action (two points and a rebound). He returned in the fourth to play alongside O’Quinn once again, but did not do much other than give KP time to cool off from a run-in with Wes Matthews.

Closing Thoughts

Roll Out

I’m not sure if this is on Hornacek or Porzingis, but when KP sets a pick it would be nice to see the 7’3” Porzingis go all the way to the rim. The pick-and-pop is okay, but far too many times has Porzingis forced a weird free-throw line jumper over smaller defenders rather than back them down. The deeper he goes, the more his size plays to his advantage.

Harper Honored

It was nice to see former Knick Derek Harper get his jersey retired by the Mavericks at halftime. We may just know him for his time in New York, but played his first 12 years in Dallas. As a Knick, he was a key cog for the 1994 team that made it to the NBA Finals. Mike Breen said on the telecast that had the Knicks won that series, Harper would have been the MVP. He did end up getting a ring with the Mavs as a coach on the 2011 Mavs staff. Congrats on the honor.

Comeback SZN

The Knicks have missed Tim Hardaway Jr. dearly, to say the least. The team is 7-11 in his absence. The offense has struggled mightily without him on the court. Porzingis has suffered the most from Timmy’s injury stint, facing the wrath of opposing team’s defenses. Luckily, that might be coming to an end. Yesterday, THJ participated in five-on-five drills and has resumed running and contact drills. If he can get back in time, the race for the playoffs looks a lot more intriguing.

Let’s Go Home

This was a rough week for the Knicks. They went winless over the week, but were able to cap off the road trip with a win. They face a tough schedule ahead but will return to MSG to take on a Bulls team that has had their number so far this season.