Courtney Lee described the electricity at Madison Square Garden as “incredible, the best I’ve ever seen it” in the New York Knicks’ 111-104 home-opening win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
It’s why the crowd was fired up after Derrick Rose shook the $153 million man, Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, out of his sneakers with a double crossover to the rim for two of his 13 points to go along with three assists and two steals on the night.
It’s why Joakim Noah got “emotional” when fans began chanting his name despite scoring only six points in 21 minutes.
And it’s why after putting up a dud in the season opener against Cleveland, Lee started the game four-of-four from the field en route to 16 points on the night.
“It’s just, uh, it’s really special to be able to play at home,” said Noah, a native of the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. “I was very nervous. But it was the best feeling.”
— EdgyFlower (@GlamourKnicks) October 30, 2016
New York’s new additions were in full form in front of the sold-out Garden crowd many revere as the rowdiest in pro sports. Now, after notching his first official win as head coach, another new Knickerbocker, Jeff Hornacek, says he wants his team use the fan-created edge they have at home.
“We want to establish home court advantage here,” Hornacek said to reporters after New York’s win over Memphis. “When teams come in here, we’re gonna get the win and play like we did tonight. And a big part of that is the fans and the crowd.”
MSG was rocking tonight!! Blessed to play in front of great fans. #protecthome
— Justin Holiday (@JustHolla7) October 30, 2016
New York has failed to successfully protect home court in each of the past three seasons, winning only 47 of 123 possible games at home. The Knicks haven’t made the playoffs during the same span, either.
But New York was 31-10 at the Garden during the 2012-13 season that saw the Knicks win 54 games and place second in the Eastern Conference behind the Miami Heat. Now 1-0 at home, Hornacek says securing home court is key because the MSG crowd brings out the best in both teams.
“When they’re out there cheering their chant before the game, that gets out guys going,” Hornacek said. “They love to play in this atmosphere. And other teams do, too. I’ve always said that coming into New York, you get everybody’s best game because they are fired up to play here.”
Immediately after receiving their championship rings, Cleveland blasted the Knicks in the season opener, 117-88. New York had 18 turnovers to just 17 assists and looked out of whack on both ends against the defending champs.
“When you come off of a game where the second half wasn’t very good, you wonder how they’re going to come out,” Hornacek said. “But they answered the bell.”
“We looked like we knew what we were doing more often tonight.”
At home against Memphis, New York both logged 17 assists and built an 18-point lead in just the first half. When asked if the home opener served as redemption for the loss to Cleveland, Rose said: “Yeah, we just wanted to see how it feels to get a win under our belt as a team. Preseason is one thing, but the regular season, it just motivates us, it pushes us. So hopefully we ride this thing out.
“We’re gonna have some ups and downs. If we learn from them the right way, we should be able to correct the downs.”
Lee had a particularly down game against the Cavaliers, posting a doughnut (zero points on 0-5 shooting) in the season opener. But he came out swinging in the first quarter against Memphis, scoring nine points on four-of-four shooting.
“It felt good. It felt good to get back out there and compete, especially after game one,” he said. “Individual performance and as a team performance, it felt good to go out there and redeem ourselves tonight. After that first one went down, we just calmed our nerves and it felt good.”
Reserve big man Kyle O’Quinn also left his mark on the game, dropping 11 points, six rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. He felt the three days of practice after the Cleveland game paid off in the home opener.
“We were able to establish doing the things in-game that we’ve been working on in practice,” O’Quinn said. “Pushing the pace, running with guys like Brandon (Jennings), playing off of guys like D-Rose and not being so hesitant with the decision that we make.”
Defense Wins Ball Games
New York forced 12 Grizzlies turnovers in the home opener. Jeff Hornacek has long preached pressure defense leads to easy, early offense, and the Knicks put his train of thought on display on Saturday.
“They went out there and played – again, the stress on defense, that makes your offense easier,” Hornacek said. “Actually, when you’re getting stops against a good team, I think it’s kind of fun when you’re stopping the other team and you know they can’t score on you. It becomes a mentality.”
Memphis wasn’t at full strength.
The Grizzlies sat their best perimeter defender in Tony Allen (knee) and their new, big free agent acquisition, Chandler Parsons (knee). Memphis coach David Fizzdale started a lineup that featured James Ennis, JaMychal Green and Andrew Harrison, with their best scorer (Zach Randolph) coming off the bench.
The Knicks also shot an abysmal 64 percent from the free throw line and had to bench their starting center when Memphis employed the Hack-a-Noah technique in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks logged 17 assists in a first half that featured an 18-point lead over Memphis. But New York would finish with just seven second-half assists and see its once double-digit lead reduced to two in the fourth quarter.
Lee told reporters ball movement was the reason the Knicks built its once insurmountable lead.
“That makes it easier on ourselves,” Lee said of making the right pass. “If we just come down, execute and make the right plays and hit the open man, that’s the best shot you’re gonna get. So I think it helped a lot tonight.”
Noah led both teams with seven assists and became the first Knicks starting center since Patrick Ewing in 1996 to finish with at least that many dimes at home.
Last Knicks starting center to dish out at least 7 assists at MSG was Patrick Ewing on April 19, 1996.
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) October 30, 2016
Hornacek said he wants Noah’s selflessness to rub off on everyone.
“We need the whole team to do that all the time,” he said. If we can buy into it, see how well it works when we’re playing defense and moving the ball. You know, everybody’s gonna get shots.”