Nearly two decades into the 21st century, there hasn’t been much to make New York Knicks fans smile. There were the three straight playoff berths between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons. There was a fairly long stretch during the first of those three seasons when (although it’s hard to recall it today) Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton were playing like an All-Star duo at the same time. We then saw the relatively short-lived but much-hyped Linsanity phenomenon quickly take on a thrilling life of its own. There was the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, and with it, an eventual 54-win season which included an Atlantic Division title, a two seed, Anthony’s lone NBA scoring title and a playoff series win over the Boston Celtics. And then there was Anthony’s record-setting, magical, completely-locked-in 62-point game against the Charlotte Bobcats. But that game came in a disappointing 37-win season, the first of what became five straight losing campaigns though last year. Overall, it’s been 14 losing Knicks seasons in the past 17 years amid a carousel of coaching and general manager changes, even with the more recent excitement provided by 2015 fourth overall draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, until he suffered a major knee injury last year.
So, yes, the opportunities for Knicks Nation to feel the pure joy and delight in watching its team play have mostly been few and far between for an extended period.
But there was a noticeably different vibe this offseason which at least for one game, carried into the start of the Knicks’ 2018-19 season. The most realistic scenario is that New York will struggle to break 30 wins this year and will end up in the draft lottery for a sixth straight season. However, this time, fans are willing to accept that as long as they can have some fun watching their Knicks again, thanks to the rare promise of a future, with one of the NBA’s youngest teams, in lieu of the past older Knicks squads which were on longer-term roads to nowhere.
And that’s exactly what those who bleed orange and blue were able to witness during New York’s 126-107 dismantling of the Atlanta Hawks in the season opener for each team at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
For at least the first night, F-U-N finally returned to MSG.
Even after an awful start in which the Knicks missed their first eight shots (including center Enes Kanter blowing a dunk) while falling behind, 10-2, there was a Garden full of fun to be had thereafter.
New York scored the next dozen points, to lead, 14-10. Although they relinquished that slim edge and trailed, 24-23, by the end of the first quarter, they were unstoppable in the next frame while posting a franchise-record 49 points in the second period. That number matched the 49 Atlanta had for the first half, as the Knicks outscored the Hawks by a couple dozen in the second quarter en route to a 72-49 halftime lead.
By then, Tim Hardaway Jr. was leading all scorers with an efficient 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Finishing with a game-high 31 points, Hardaway Jr. was one of seven Knicks to score in double figures, including four off the bench.
Bolstering New York’s reserves, newcomers Mario Hezonja and rookie Allonzo Trier scored 15 each and Noah Vonleh (likewise in his Knicks debut) added 12 points while making all of his five shots and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Among the starters, Trey Burke continued his good play from a year ago as a third Knick to score 15 points and Kanter maintained his walking double-double routine from last year, contributing 16 points (while making all but one of his seven shots) and 11 boards.
New York had 12 steals, one of which led to a breakout, after Kanter poked away an Atlanta entry pass in the lane, before it was finished at the other end with a great no-look pass by Hardaway Jr. for a two-handed Kanter stuff.
An emphatic punctuation mark came on an aggressive late third-quarter drive down the lane and right-handed slam by Trier which was ferocious enough to still be trending on Twitter long after final buzzer.
Make no mistake. The Hawks are awful. They tied for the NBA’s third-worst record last year and could be even worse this season. So, pump the brakes before jumping on any sort of Knicks playoff train off of a single season-opening win. But that’s not what this year figures to be about for New York. This year is mainly about player development and instilling the right traits team-wide at each end of the floor. When that happens (as it did on Wednesday night) with a bunch of young, athletic, enthusiastic, energetic players, it can be enjoyable to watch, win or lose. And when all of that occurs while managing to win — and even win big, as the Knicks did against the Hawks — it’s a reminder that although New York is realistically headed for that sixth straight losing season and 15th in 18 years, it feels like going through that could be different this year. This year, despite the expected losing over the long haul, these Knicks could be fun.