New York Knicks: Why Tim Hardaway Jr.'s Big Night Was So Important
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 29: Tim Hardaway Jr. #3 of the New York Knicks looks for a pass while under pressure from JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on October 29, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Knicks defeated the Cavaliers 114-95. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Tim Hardaway Jr. broke out of his slump in the New York Knicks blowout win vs. Cavs. Here’s why the game was so important.

The New York Knicks dug Tim Hardaway Jr. a huge hole when they gave him that $71 million contract. No matter what he does, he’ll always be unfairly tied to that number. So when he got off to a bad start, it only fueled the critics.

The 25-year-old was awful in New York’s first four games – three of them being losses. He averaged 9.8 points to go along with a terrible slash line of .265/.222/.700. Hardaway made just 13 field goals in 128 minutes and had a player efficiency rating (PER) of 0.8.

That’s why his big game on Sunday night against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers was so important. Hardaway didn’t just need to break out of his slump. He needed to do it in a significant way.

And there’s no more significant feat in the NBA than outdueling King James in Cleveland. Especially for a Knicks team that entered the night with a 10-game losing streak against the Cavs.

Fortunately, the Knicks were catching James at the right time. The Cavs are still trying to figure out how to play without Kyrie Irving, it’s very early, and Cleveland’s defense still stinks. Even with all that, Sunday’s result was still a shocker, and it wouldn’t have happened without Hardaway.

Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 66 of New York’s 114 points in their blowout victory over the Cavs.

Porzingis may be the star, but Hardaway had a game-leading 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting and 5-of-10 from three-point range. Hardaway had a +/- rating of -10 entering Sunday. He was +22 against the Cavs.

Hardaway’s dynamic scoring is made even more impressive when you take into account his low usage percentage of 24.2 percent. Porzingis had a usage percentage of 39.2 percent! Eat your heart out Carmelo Anthony (via

Hardaway was aggressive. He attempted eight free throws on Sunday, and he’d only attempted 10 free throws in total in the first four games combined. He drew eight personal fouls, one more than Porzingis.

The $71 million man was second on the team in contested shots (8) and tied for first in deflections (3) with Porzingis.

He had 12 of New York’s 19 second chance points and six of their 13 points off turnovers. According to, 54.5 percent of his makes were unassisted. That’s pretty impressive and shows how versatile a player Hardaway is.

Hardaway’s scoring was great, but we knew his shot was coming. The most important thing was that the shooting guard played some defense tonight. He logged 41 minutes and posted a defensive rating of 89.3. Before Sunday, Hardaway’s defensive rating was a significantly higher 99.8.

Meanwhile, James was out of sorts in his efforts to counter. The best player in the game only managed 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He only had 13 games last year where he scored less than 20 points. But it wasn’t just the King who Hardaway one-upped on Sunday.

Hardaway easily won the positional battle with his fellow shooting guards. His offseason workout partner Dwyane Wade had another rough outing with just six points in 24 minutes. J.R. Smith wasn’t much better with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting in 29 minutes.

Smith’s salary for this season is slightly less than $13 million. Between his buyout with the Bulls and his salary with the Cavs, Wade makes approximately $10 million this season. The future Hall of Famer and world-class gunner are making over $23 million combined, but their production wasn’t even to keep up with Hardaway on Sunday.

Hardaway rakes in $16.5 million in the first year of that whopper of a contract. If he keeps playing well against teams like the Cavs, Knicks fans may start to forget about that salary just a little bit.

I'm ESNY's Executive Editor for I cover the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Email: Chip Murphy covers the NBA for Elite Sports NY. You can find him on Twitter @ChipperMurphy.