Led by Tim Hardaway Jr. and an alternating attack by Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke, the Knicks led the Pelicans until the 2:30 mark in the fourth quarter.

For the first time in over a week, it felt like the Knicks were playing basketball again.

The Knicks controlled the pace for much of the game, getting to their spots, pushing the ball off the glass, and throwing body shots at the Pelicans (often literally—they were whistled for 31 fouls on the night). Leading at one point by 19, New York flinched each time New Orleans tightened up the defense, falling into a series of iso plays for Hardaway, Allonzo Trier, and Burke to mixed results.

Ball movement ground to a halt, and three bad turnovers in a row late in the game by Timmy gave Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis the opportunity they needed to seize the lead, similar to the turnover Hardaway had midway through the fourth quarter against Indiana that swung the momentum definitively to the other team.

While it’s easy to look at the fourth loss in a row—the sixth of the last seven—as just another depressing Knicks defeat, this was one of the best games the young Knicks have played all season.

Mitchell Robinson may have gotten lost on damn-near every pick and roll defensively, but he was impacting plays, playing defense, and fouling the heck out of anyone within reach. Considering that Enes Kanter was the worst player on the floor for most of the game tonight, that’s not too bad.

Kevin Knox started out slow, missing his first three looks, all three-pointers, before coming on in the third quarter. At times he looked weak and passive against bruisers like Julius Randle, and the disastrous occasions wherein he got switched onto AD, but in the second half he looked smooth offensively. Hopefully head coach David Fizdale will start getting him more looks attacking the basket with a little momentum—something he was doing for Frank earlier in the season.

Speaking of Frank, he had another quiet night, but when he was in, he was helping. In the third quarter, after a fourth quick foul from Knox (a theme with most of the Knicks tonight), Frank was subbed in with the task of guarding 6’9 power forward/center Julius Randle and held his own on three straight possessions in the paint. He also busted out this beautiful move in the first half before, Fizdale inexplicably pulled him during his first confident offensive stretch this month.

Fizdale displayed his most creative coaching of the season. For the first time, we saw a Burke-Ntilikina defense-for-offense switch late in the game, which is something I’ve been clamoring for in TKW Slack chats for a while now. We also saw Damyean Dotson pulled for Allonzo Trier late in the game, which is a bold move, but probably the wrong decision. These are the kinds of choices Fizdale has to make in order to see what works and what doesn’t at this point in the season; he seems genuinely open to anything right now.

But the story of the night has to be the play of Mudiay and Burke, who took turns keeping the Knicks afloat whenever Anthony Davis got too Godzilla-y on the court. Each scored a season high—Trey with 24 off the bench, and Mudiay with 19 as the starter.

Mudiay earned his starting minutes tonight. He was composed on the floor and only had one turnover. Zero assists in 23 minutes isn’t ideal (only one assist for Trey for that matter), but the ball moved decently for stretches, until the team inevitably returned to iso-mode. Mudiay and Burke have flirted both with success as well as being completely out of the rotation, so it was nice to see them both show out. Whether it’s sustainable or not is another question. Mudiay made a lot of shots he usually misses, and Burke was absolutely shredded by Jrue Holiday on defense.

Maybe it’s true what Tim Hardaway said, that there are no moral victories, but after tough losses against Toronto, Orlando, and OKC, it was nice to see the Knicks play with some passion again. This was three rookies, a couple reclamation projects, and Tim Hardaway Jr. against one of the truly elite talents of the league and a lethal supporting cast.

For 45 minutes, the Knicks were the better team.