An impressive job on both ends from rookie Frank Ntilikina helps put away the Nets in the fourth quarter, blowing up the game to a final score of 119–104.

Before they kick off their West Coast road trip, the Knicks ventured across the East River to face the Nets. Heading into their first MLK game away from the Garden since 1987 (thanks, Grammy Awards), the team was looking to get off the schneid. Not even 24 hours removed from that embarrassing fourth quarter collapse to the Pelicans, they had to have this game to build some confidence.

They took came out strong. The ball moved freely. Buckets were dropping. Defense was good, especially at the three-point line. The bench scored 25 of the team’s first 46 points as everyone benefited from the unselfish passing. In a third quarter that had the same running time as a Game of Thrones episode, the Nets clawed back. Combined, there were 36 free-throws attempted in the third period, an eye sore of a ball game. A 14-point Knicks lead deteriorated to a measly two-point gap.

That left it up to the final frame yet again. The second unit, which had been great all game, took over. With Frankie Ntillmatic running the show, a 17–2 run gave the Knicks breathing room again. The rookie was moving with a purpose and his play was infectious.

Porzingis was the only starter to return for the fourth and played extremely well with a unit including Frank, Beasley, and Ron Baker. Unlike yesterday, the Knicks snatched this game from their opponent instead of the other way around.

Trading Places

The playing field was even. Both teams came in on their third game in four nights. To the credit of both squads, the energy was there from the jump. The Knicks out-executed the Nets on offense yet couldn’t break loose.

Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson has gotten his guys to push the pace and spread the floor, a philosophy that preaches effort over the talent the Nets possess. Conversely, Jeff Hornacek continues to look like a third base coach, urging his team to do the same. The ball rarely sticks for the Nets. If they’re not shooting at the rim, then they’re launching from beyond the arc (Brooklyn went 11-of-32 from three on Monday).

Why the Knicks don’t shoot more threes is maddening. The reason the paint is always clogged is everyone loves shooting from the elbow on down. Before Doug McDermott checked in with about six minutes left in the quarter, the Knicks did not attempt one three. McDermott himself attempted two out of three total attempts and Frankie attempted the other. Meanwhile anyone in a Nets uniform was letting it fly from deep.

Shooters Shoot

Over Ntilikina’s last five games, the rookie has been dreadful. He is averaging 2.2 points per game while shooting a frigid 21.1 percent from the floor. Worst of all has been his attempts, which have dipped to 3.8 per game. The message got through to their rookie.

Frank’s greatest asset at this point is his digestion of criticism. He’s a sponge who continues to get better because he listens to everything he’s told. Hornacek put him in early in the first quarter, and he came out more aggressive than usual. He had a beautiful transition dime to Lance Thomas. He recorded a triple-trey (three points, three rebounds and three assists) in his first nine minutes of action. Late in the second quarter, he drove and raised up for a dunk, drawing a foul on fellow rookie Jarrett Allen.

In the third quarter, he had his best sequence of the night. He blocked DeMarre Carroll (Brooklyn’s leading scorer on Monday with 22 points) on one end, pushed the pace and fed K.O. right at the rim for a dunk:

However, the fourth quarter is when Frankie really began to cook. He was swarming on defense. When Frank handled the ball you could tell his confidence was up. He cut out the meandering, the hesitating and let it rip. To no surprise, he put together a delicious 10 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists, two blocks and one steal performance in almost 30 minutes of action.

Ntilikina stabilized the lead, bumping the Nets’ deficit down to fourteen. His defense, crucially, was the catalyst for the 17–2 run to start the final frame. Hornacek rode his rookie for the whole quarter as the Knicks won the fourth by a 36–23 margin. It was no doubt the most poised Frank has looked all season.

Trey Ball

We still have to wait for the Wolverine reunion, but Trey Burke finally made his debut in orange and blue. If you’re a believer of omens, then this was an encouraging first shot.

Knicks fans have been dying to see what Burke–who was tearing up the G League–looked like on the big league roster. It looks like Jarrett Jack’s minutes will be the one affected by the move (although Monday’s contest may have been skewed by the necessity to rest Jack on a back-to-back). Jack tallied four points and four assists in 13 minutes of game time. Most importantly, though, was New York stretching their lead from two to 10 when Burke found time on the hardwood. He got into the paint, got KP and Willy(?!) the ball in good spots and took care of the basketball in a unique second quarter full of ‘Bocker youngsters given time to shine.

Burke told reporters that he wanted a clean slate when he went to the G League. As he gets acclimated, it’ll be interesting to hear how much Tim Hardaway Jr. talked to him about the G League transition considering Timmy’s own adjustment period on Atlanta’s (then) D-League affiliate team.

Top Gun

Porzingis has had to deal with quite the adjustment of becoming the top option. Until now we haven’t really heard KP address the issue, but he did open up to a scrum of media before the game. According to the New York press, he felt that he had to put up the same numbers he put up at the start of the season despite increased defensive attention. That has led to those forced shots we have grown accustomed to as of late. Hornacek put a bow on it by saying even if a play is called for him that doesn’t mean it has to end with him shooting.

Nonetheless, on Monday, KP backed that talk up with some action. KP did not record an assist in the first half, but the ball did not stick to Porzingis; he was a willing passer. The result was an uber efficient 11 points in 14 minutes on 5-of-6 shooting. He hit his two three-point attempts, both on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

That efficiency did not dip after that. He finished with 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He moved the ball when his shot wasn’t there. He remained active on the boards and defensive end.

It looks like he feels most comfortable when he is operating from the block. That can work if he operates from there like he did today. He moved the ball when the defense zoned in on him. He made moves toward the basket instead of rising for free-throw line jumpers. The results produced some nice plays such as this one:

Something that has been wacky about his game has been his free-throw line performance. He is 10 of his last 20 from the charity stripe. Given his penchant to flop, this is a slump he has to nip in the bud.

Closing Thoughts
  • The Streak continues. Courtney Lee had not gone to the free-throw line in three games, but the vet finally returned today, tying Chris Duhon’s franchise record of 44 consecutive free-throws.
  • If you’re going to foul, foul. Four separate times Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was softly touched before laying the rock in. Jack did it twice and O’Quinn once. Do we have to get Charles Oakley in to show these dudes how to foul? Actually. You know what? That’s a damn good idea.
  • The next six games will be on the road. If you take away wins at Brooklyn the Knicks still only have three road wins. They’ll have to figure out how to win away from NYC as they head west where the competition is almost always fierce.
  • What an obnoxiously long third quarter. It was brutal: there were technical fouls, countless hacks, and of course some sloppy turnovers.
  • I love when Porzingis and Frank are on the floor together. You can see the defensive potential these two possess together. In the fourth quarter, there was one play that stuck out. Spencer Dinwiddie was hounded by Frank and KP came up for the easy swat. There is no reason this can’t be one of the top defensive teams in the league with just those two. (Per Yahoo’s Dan Devine, KP and Frank are a +73 when they share the floor.)
  • It was nice to see the team flip the script in the fourth. They are the only team in the league to blow a 14-point lead (twice) so it was warranted apprehension in today’s match.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr. sat out due to rest. He appeared to be limping at the end of Sunday’s game but is okay. He should be in the lineup when the team plays in Memphis on Wednesday.