New York Knicks: Jeff Hornacek continues to maximize every player
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

New York Knicks’ head coach Jeff Hornacek is not only coaching spectacularly, he’s getting the most out of his team.

The New York Knicks continue to grind, outwork and will their way to victory.

Saturday night was no different.

In what was Carmelo Anthony’s return to New York, the Knicks silenced the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning 111-96 even with Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. out due to injury. The team’s remarkable effort and ability to pull through without two of their most significant players shows how head coach Jeff Hornacek is getting the most out of every single one of his players on an every night basis.

Going into this season, little-to-nobody realistically envisioned the Knicks being a playoff-caliber team or one that would be competitive. With Anthony out the door and a young, unproven core in place, they seemed like a team bound to be playing for the NBA lottery. Instead, they find themselves 16-13 and in the playoff picture.

On Saturday night, the Knicks continued to play to their forte — outwork and grit their way to victory. Playing without Porzingis and Hardaway, it appeared as if the hype surrounding Anthony’s return to the Mecca was, in a way, diminished, but the Knicks did the unthinkable.

Led by Michael Beasley’s 30-point outburst, the Knicks forced the Thunder’s hand and gradually took over the game in the second half. Whether it be diving on the floor, finding the open man (21 assists), shooting with efficiency (55.1 percent from the field), hitting the three-pointer (60.9 prevent from beyond the arc), or executing at the charity stripe (80.8 percent from the free throw line), the Knicks willed their way to an impressive win at home.

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 16: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands alongside Michael Beasley #8 of the New York Knicks in the fourth quarter during their game at Madison Square Garden on December 16, 2017 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

It’s no secret that the Thunder have struggled this season.

Despite adding Paul George and Anthony to a team that already consisted of MVP point guard Russell Westbrook and defensive savvy center Steven Adams, Billy Donovan’s squad has simply been unable to come together and garner any sort of consistency. Falling to 14-15 after their loss to the Knicks, the Thunder find themselves barely holding onto the eighth seed in the Western Conference; going into training camp, they were projected to be at the top of the conference.

At the same time, the talent in their starting five alone — even without Adams, who was in the concussion protocol — should’ve been enough to handle an injured Knicks’ team.

Hornacek saw and continues to see a diligent effort night in and out from his squad. Going up against Anthony and the Thunder without Porzingis and Hardaway, talent-wise, should’ve made for a blowout. Instead, his squad buckled down and worked with the players they had at their disposal and won.

Whether it be the near-triple-double from Jarrett Jack (12 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) the 30 points from Beasley, the 20 from Courtney Lee, or the potent effort defensively, Hornacek got a phenomenal collective effort and performance from his team.

All year long, the Knicks have been a gritty team. They may not have the most talent 1-15, but what they do have is a bunch of players who play with an aggressive and energetic mindset — one that cannot be disrupted by anyone.

The fact that with a 22-year-old Porzingis leading the way and a team playing with a never-quit attitude is excelling under Hornacek makes this team’s play captivating. Put that play together with a win at home versus a player in Anthony, who was viewed, by some, as the piece in the way of their rebuild, or the player that had to go, in order to make way for the Porzingis era to commence, and the Knicks have themselves a night to remember for the rest of the year, no matter the end result.

It was a game that summed up their identity — playing as a whole and embracing “next man up”.

When Porzingis has been hurt, Beasley’s stepped up. His 30-point performance vs the Thunder was his second 30-point game of the year. In fact, this month the forward is averaging 14.5 points per game. Whether it be playing in isolation, forcing the issue at the rim, or hitting the outside jumper, Beasley has been a threat on the offensive end.

Going into training camp, Jack was an afterthought to man even a minor role in Hornacek’s rotation. Two months later, he’s the team’s starting point guard. Finding his teammates in the right spots (averaging six assists a game going into Saturday night), sticking the jumper when he has to and taking care of the ball, Jack has been a key component to the Knicks’ togetherness and success.

Lee has been a glue guy and a leader. Averaging career-highs in points (13.2) rebounds (3.5), assists (2.8), steals (1.4) and three-point shooting percentage (44.4%) going into Saturday night, Lee has been a two-way presence. Finishing the night with 20 points and competing fiercely on the defensive end, the 32-year-old continued that well-rounded play; the veteran is having arguably the best year of his career while setting an example by stepping up and playing better when the Knicks need him.

Enes Kanter has been the heart and soul of this team. Playing through injury, finishing in the paint, hitting the boards on both ends and serving as the team’s vocal leader, the center has become a landmark figure in the Garden.

Lance Thomas and Kyle O’Quinn have come off the bench, providing instant defense and a source of energy on both ends; the two have been crucial to the team’s electric play and defensive commitment.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 07: Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets reacts to a call in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks during their game at Madison Square Garden on November 7, 2017 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

While he finished with zero points on Saturday night, point guard Frank Ntilikina has made an impact on both ends this season. Whether it be playing with a selfless mentality and finding his teammates (3.4 assists per game going into Saturday night off the bench) or pickpocketing (1.4 steals per game going into Saturday night) on the defensive end, the 19-year-old rookie point guard has been a welcome addition to Hornacek’s rotation.

Doug McDermott has come off the bench and been a sharpshooter from the outside (shooting 40.3 percent from beyond the arc) while holding his own defensively — despite it not being his strong suit.

Shooting guard Ron Baker, now healthy, has been hitting the three-pointer and playing aggressive on-ball defense.

The nine guys Hornacek threw out on the floor versus the Thunder played with a purpose — to find a way to win. The Knicks held the Thunder to 96 points and Anthony to just 12 points on 5-18 shooting.

Grit, passion, selfless play and determination have been the Knicks’ bread and butter. Saturday night proved that notion head-on. Winning at home versus a talented roster in Anthony and the Thunder without Porzingis and Hardaway was just another model for how Hornacek continues to get the most out of every single player on his roster.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos