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Playing the red-hot Boston Celtics without Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah and Lance Thomas, it would have been understandable—and expected at this point—if the New York Knicks phoned things in.
A few unsung heroes had other plans.
The Knicks got 55 points from their bench, including 17 from Willy Hernangomez, as they held on for a 117-106 win Wednesday in Boston.
Derrick Rose led all Knicks with 30 points in perhaps his best performance since joining the team. Rose added 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals and knocked down 13 of his 24 shots. It’s just the second time the former MVP has hit the 30-point barrier since joining the team. The NBA provided a highlight from a vintage Rose layup:
Derrick Rose goes for 30 points and 10 rebounds! @nyknicks beat @celtics, 117-106.
Thomas goes for 39 PTS. pic.twitter.com/QYwIw0qfjR
— NBA (@NBA) January 19, 2017
Still, it was team’s non-stars who took their extra playing time and shined. Mindaugas Kuzminskas, starting in place of Porzingis, scored 17 points and carried the offense for stretches in the first half. The 27-year-old rookie has scored in double figures in three of the last four games.
Daily Knicks thought Jeff Hornacek‘s rotation changes were paying dividends:
Courtney Lee quietly has six assists and Mindaugas Kuzminskas has a loud 15. Rotation changes are looking strong.
— Daily Knicks (@DailyKnicksFS) January 19, 2017
Justin Holiday (13 points) and Brandon Jennings (11 points) were also in double figures off the bench. Jennings added five assists and four rebounds.
Courtney Lee, meanwhile, had his best game since being benched for Ron Baker. Lee had nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists and was the lead playmaker at times even when Rose was in the game. Joseph Flynn of Posting and Toasting likes Lee with the second unit:
Courtney Lee playing on the second unit with the youngsters works because it forces him to take control of the offense.
— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) January 19, 2017
The Knicks shot 50.5 percent as a team, including a 10-of-25 mark from beyond the arc. Boston spent most of its night looking sloppy in rotations and disoriented on the offensive end.
Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 39 points and Jae Crowder added 21, but the Celts got little help elsewhere. Al Horford had perhaps his worst game in a Boston uniform, shooting 2-of-14 from the field in a five-point, 10-rebound outing. CelticsBlog does not want to hear the Horford negativity:
Ok, don’t even come at me with this anti-Horford nonsense. He had a bad game. It happens. Vice President Al Horford is worth every penny.
— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) January 19, 2017
The Celtics shot just 38.5 percent from the field overall. Guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier combined to have a Horfordian (2-of-14) shooting line, and Boston cratered on both ends of the floor when its bench came in the game.
Defense was the major problem most of the way, as the Knicks were allowed to dribble-drive their way deep into the paint for close buckets or kick-outs.
A day after his meeting with Knicks president Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony was an offensive no-show. He scored 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, including a 3-of-9 performance beyond the arc. Hornacek spent most of the fourth quarter trusting his hot bench over going back to the nine-time All-Star.
There was also an incident where Anthony grew frustrated with an official who blew his whistle in his ear. He attempted to recheck the ball, only for the official to keep counting for a five-second violation. That led to this tweet from Zach DiLuzio of Posting and Toasting:
Carmelo vs ref whistling in his ear is my favorite NBA rivalry
— Zach DiLuzio (@zjdiluzio) January 19, 2017
It’s been anything but a smooth last couple of days for Anthony, who has been the subject of trade speculation. He met with Jackson on Tuesday to discuss an article written by Charley Rosen, a longtime confidant of the Knicks president who wrote Anthony has “outlived his usefulness” in a Jan. 12 column for FanRag Sports.
Anthony refused to divulge details from the meeting but reiterated his commitment to New York before the game.
“I’m committed. I don’t think I have to prove that to anybody. I don’t think I have to keep saying that. I don’t think people have to keep talking about it,” Anthony told reporters.
The Knicks winning essentially without Melo won’t do much to quell the buzz. This is little more than an outlier performance on a night when Boston looked almost completely disinterested in defense—especially with its bench units. There are still deep flaws with this team, which has lost 11 of its last 14 games. Getting back into the East’s playoff picture by the All-Star break might help quell trade speculation, but it’s clear the Jackson-Anthony relationship will continue to be a storyline going forward.
The Celtics, who entered winners of seven of eight, will be fine. They’re an inherently flawed non-contender that has lapses on defense. It’s been that way for most of the season, though they have been more inconsistent since Horford returned to full health. It’s just a little strange to see them lay an egg against a Knicks team that came in reeling.
Boston will look to get back to its winning ways Saturday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Knicks host the Washington Wizards on Thursday on the second night of a back-to-back.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.