Wagner: Home Opening Team Effort Exactly What Knicks Will Need This Season

Just two games into his tenure as the New York Knicks’ head coach, Jeff Hornacek knows it will take a team effort on a consistent basis for his team to succeed.

“We’re gonna win by having everybody on our team play well,” Hornacek admitted, before quickly adding at the Knicks’ success can’t fall too much on the shoulders of nine-time All-Star and 2012-13 NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony or newly acquired, 2008 first overall draft pick, 2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player and three-time All-Star point guard Derrick Rose.

“If it’s just Carmelo that plays well, or just Derrick, we’re not gonna win,” Hornacek continued, touting the play of several others who propelled New York (1-1) built a sizable early lead before holding off one Memphis Grizzlies rally after another to finally secure its first win (111-104) of its 70th season in the new-look Knicks’ home opener before an electric crowd at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

“But if they all play well, we’re gonna have a chance against anybody.”

Indeed, on a night when New York’s franchise forward scored a relatively quiet 20 points while missing 10 of 15 shots from the field — including four of five from 3-point range — and was outdone by a solid 21-point performance from second-year blossoming star forward Kristaps Porzingis (who was a far more efficient 7-for-11 from the floor), the contributions of Anthony and Rose (13 points on 6-of-13 shooting, and a pedestrian three assists) were merely complementary for a team that overhauled its roster with five new additions in the frontcourt and just as many in the backcourt over the offseason.

Not that New York could have won without Anthony and Rose, either.

After leading 29-13 late in the first quarter, by as much as 18 points in the second period, and building a reduced, slim margin back up to 16 points near the mid-point of the third quarter, Anthony (who also recorded five assists) scored a game-high eight points (while making six of seven free throws) in the final stanza after the Grizzlies (1-1) got as close as 87-85, with 9:14 remaining.

New York pulled away for good, scoring the next dozen points, starting with an Anthony 3-point play before a pair of runners in the lane from Rose during the same run pushed the Knicks’ advantage to what proved to be an insurmountable 14-point bulge with 5:26 left.

Yet, as Hornacek stressed, it was a variety of Knicks helping out both offensive and defensively which propelled New York to victory — something that the Knicks’ new coach and his players know will determine the level of success — or lack thereof — that New York will ultimately have this year.

So far, that’s fine with Anthony and Rose.

“You don’t see me complaining about it,” Anthony said. “You didn’t see me out there making a face about it. It’s something that I embrace. I look forward to just being out there with guys who can control the game and make plays, and when it’s my time, it’s my time.

“It’s fun out there knowing that the ball doesn’t have to be in my hands every single time down the court for us to make things happen.”

Equally humble, Rose added, “I’m not worried about my stats at all. As long as we win, everybody wins, so that’s how I look at it. I have so many options [to pass to] whenever I come off pick-and-roll. [It’s just] pick your poison [for the opposition].”

There of course will be certain times during the season when the Knicks, as Anthony or perhaps Rose (as they have been prone to do over their careers), will have carry their team to wins on their backs.

“It’ll come a time where that’ll have to happen, but right now, we’re just trying to get comfortable with each other and play off of each other, and [let] guys do what they do best,” Anthony said.

As Hornacek suggested, New York need not and should not make a habit of trying to win without a full team effort at any point during the season. And at least in the Knicks’ home opener, it showed at each end of the floor, as New York bounced back from a 29-point season-opening loss in Cleveland four nights earlier.

“I thought our defense… that’s what got us the big lead in the beginning of the game,” Hornacek noted. “Guys were really playing tough D, helping each other out. When they do that, it gives us an opportunity to get out in the open floor and get some easy buckets.

“On top of that, our ball movement in the first half was very good. [In the] second half, I thought we didn’t move the ball as well. Consequently, we didn’t score [as easily], but we have some great players that are able to make some plays. Carmelo and Derrick kind of took over [late].”

While Hornacek acknowledged the Knicks’ eventual dependency on his two stars, there was no denying that New York wouldn’t have been in position for Anthony and Rose to help lead the Knicks to victory without players like Porzingis, and newcomers, center Joakim Noah (six points, game-highs of 10 rebounds and seven assists) and starting shooting guard Courtney Lee (16 points on 6-of-11 shooting) — among several others — stepping up in big ways earlier.

“KP’s got that inside-outside game, and that’s a huge threat… he’s a great player,” Hornacek said of Porzingis. “He’s going to continue to get better. That effectiveness he has inside defensively, just with his length [also helps a lot].”

On Noah’s ability to set an unselfish example with his adepts passing, Hornacek added, “We need the whole team to do that all the time. We can buy into it and see how well it works when we’re playing defense [and] when we’re moving the ball. Everybody’s gonna get shots.”

In Rose’s opinion, the 6-foot-11 Noah isn’t the Knicks’ only big man who can pass well.

“We’ve got two,” he said. “KP’s a good passer too. He’s just young.”

However, agreeing with Hornacek, it was New York’s defense which Rose credited as being vital for the Knicks.

“That’s the end of the ball that we’re trying to get better on, the defensive end.”

Lee said the difference between New York’s first two games of the season was both “the intensity” from a defensive standpoint, as well as limiting offensive mistakes, making the extra pass.

“We came out and got after it from the start,” Lee said. “We kind of did that in [Cleveland], but… then we started having turnovers. I think the thing was we took care of the ball a lot better [tonight] and like I said, the defensive intensity was there.

“That makes it easy on ourselves. If we just come down, execute, make the right plays and hit the open man, that’s the best shot you’re gonna get.”

Lee also credited Rose’s ability to help his teammates off the dribble.

“That’s just a credit to him being a great individual player,” Lee said of Rose. “He can read the defenses, he can break them down, get in the paint and find the open guys.”

Recalling the Knicks’ game-deciding 12-0 run in the final quarter, Porzingis said, “We were just locked in defensively. We got stops, and then offensively, we’re a talented team. We were able to get good looks, pass the ball to each other, make open shots and got to the basket. We just played good basketball at that moment, and it all started from the defense.”

However, Porzingis and Noah — even after a good win — also pointed out where New York needs to improve in ways that should make the Knicks better, rather than resting on the satisfaction of getting a victory.

“There were moments when we were static and not really moving that well, not moving the ball,” Porzingis said. “We’ve got to get rid of those moments and just play team basketball and share the ball… we’ll try to get more time of that good basketball and less of that static [play] where we’re [content to stand around, thinking], ‘Look what Melo’s going to do.’ We need to move and move the ball, and that’s when we play good basketball.”

Noah said, “We’re a work in progress. We’ve got a ways to go. It’s hard to win in this league. We’re happy we got the ‘W’ but we know we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Those types of attitudes — particularly after a win — are what make winning teams win even more.

And so does having several different players heavily in the mix, even when a couple of stars could take on bigger loads but don’t need to, because others are getting involved.

It’s only one win, but the way in which the Knicks won and the things they said afterward, offer a lot of hope for their fans that all of New York’s new pieces might have a good chance of fitting together well and achieving success.

About the Author

Jon Wagner

Jon has been a credentialed writer with New York Sports Day since 2009, primarily covering the New York Knicks and Hofstra men's basketball. He has also occasionally covered other college basketball and New York's pro teams including the Mets, Giants, Jets, Islanders, Rangers and Cosmos (including their three most recent championship seasons). Jon is former Yahoo Sports contributor who previously covered various sports for the Queens Ledger. He's a proud alum of Hofstra University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting (which he attended on a full scholarship). He remains convinced to this day that John Starks would have won the Knicks a championship in 1994 had Hakeem Olajuwon not blocked Starks' shot in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

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