Michael Beasley records a game-high 30 points to lead New York past former Knick Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder 111-96.
But the present is much more interesting at the moment.
The Knicks somehow beat Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder by 15 points with New York’s top two scorers sitting on the bench due to injury. The Knicks have won four straight, and at 16-13, they will wake up Sunday in a four-way tie for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re improving every day, it seems like,” said New York head coach Jeff Hornacek. “We’re not having the same mistakes [repeatedly], so I think the guys are getting it and they’re feeling good about what they’re doing.”
In some ways, New York was probably supposed to beat Oklahoma City and its big three. The Thunder were playing the second game of a back-to-back, coming off of a triple-overtime win in Philadelphia. And OKC was without starting center Steven Adams.
But it wasn’t so much the end result on Saturday that impressed Hornacek; it was the way the Knicks won the game.
And they got them.
Thanks to impressive performances from Michael Beasley, Courtney Lee, Ron Baker, Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn, New York shot 55 percent from the field and had 21 assists on 38 made field goals against OKC. Hornacek and his players saw that as evidence that they are “playing the right way” — which is a euphemism for using ball movement and constant player movement to create open shots.
“We’re clicking; we have a good vibe going,” McDermott said after scoring 13 points in 32 minutes. ” If you get the ball moving and make the unselfish play, everyone’s going to succeed.”
The Knicks also excelled on the defensive end, holding the Thunder to 42 percent shooting. Hornacek credited Baker for defending Paul George effectively during stretches.
“This is the Ron Baker you saw last year,” the coach said.
But the Knicks wouldn’t have come close to winning the game without Beasley, who grew up emulating Anthony while playing in the same Washington, D.C.-Baltimore pipeline as the former Knick.
It was only natural that Beasley took over the game that was supposed to be all about Anthony and his return to New York. In addition to tying his career high of 30 points, Beasley added a season-high four assists.
Michael Beasley steals the show in Carmelo Anthony’s return to Madison Square Garden with a game-high 30 points on 11 of 18 shooting from the field.
“Mike’s been fantastic,” Hornacek said. “He’s engaged in practice; he talks with the guys. He’s a smart basketball player — a smart person anyway. You talk to him, you realize it. But he really understands the game, and some of the stuff he does is just effortless.”
Beasley has played a key role in the Knicks’ past three wins; his recent run of strong play gives Hornacek an interesting decision to make when the club is fully healthy. The coach often decides between playing Beasley or Lance Thomas at the backup small forward spot. But the coach might have to find minutes for both players, if Beasley continues to produce the way he has in the past week.
That, of course, would be a welcome problem for Hornacek. At the beginning of the season, he was at the head of what seemed like a failed experiment. The Knicks were trying to incorporate several new players during a shortened training camp and nothing was working.
New York had lost all five of its preseason games and its first three regular-season games.
“We were trying to establish a certain way we play, a certain way we handle things. And you don’t know how long that’s going to take,” Hornacek said.
“Now we kind of fell into that grove knowing what we’re doing, what we expect from them, and they’re performing.”
That performance on Saturday left fans talking about the Knicks’ present on a night when it was supposed to be about the past.
And it left Anthony himself impressed by his old team.
“I like what they have going on over there,” he said. “For me just to see those guys having fun again, knowing that it wasn’t fun — the fun was lost over the past couple of seasons — to see those guys having fun again, bringing that energy, bringing that love back to the game, back to the Garden, is something that I’m happy for those guys when it comes to that.”