For the first time in what feels like forever, Steve Clifford had a fully healthy roster to work with. He opted to start the returning to Cody Zeller at center with the rest of the Charlotte regulars.
The Zeller move would pay off right away as the big center scored all eight Hornets points in the first half of the opening quarter. Going the other direction, Carmelo Anthony also had the shooter’s touch, putting up eight points of his own. However, he wasn’t the only scorer for New York.
A couple of bad turnovers and early foul calls helped the Knicks get out to an early lead. Traveling was the turnover of choice, one by Kemba Walker and one by Roy Hibbert, who was the first sub into the game from Clifford. With Zeller exiting, it was on the rest of the starting lineup plus Hibbert to figure out another way to score and they did. An and-one from Nicolas Batum was followed by a made 3-pointer from Marvin Williams to tie the game.
One thing that was worth noting from the early action was the impressive defensive ability of the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, who get stuck guarding Walker on a possession and was able to track him around the court, using his extreme length to force Walker to chuck a very long 3-point attempt to beat the clock.
Frank Kaminsky, Ramon Sessions and Marco Belinelli were next in to the game for the Hornets. The only Charlotte starter to stay in the game was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Walker was forced to sit early because he picked up his second foul. Fortunately, Sessions decided to absolutely ether Derrick Rose for a highlight dunk.
Speaking of highlights, the Knicks did a nice montage for Patrick Ewing during a timeout. The music choice was a bit strange, but hey, we’re talking about New York.
Despite playing just 5:21 in the quarter, Zeller led all Hornets in scoring with his eight points. Batum had three points, three rebounds and four assists. For the Knicks, Anthony was feeling it, despite some great defense, and finished with 16 points in 12 minutes, it was 30-28, Knicks, at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter stayed close early. Some excellent passing going both ways, including a great pass from Kaminsky on a Belinelli make. Unfortunately for Frank, as soon as Carmelo sat, Kristaps got it going. He hit a long 3-pointer, then a mid-range jumper over Kaminsky and then forced a Frank turnover. After a timeout, Charlotte got back on track.
Midway through the second quarter, Zeller had not re-entered the game, but was still the leading scorer among the Hornets starters. Fortunately, Belinelli stayed hot for 10 points in just under 10 minutes on 4-for-5 shooting and Charlotte leading 45-43 at the 5:46 mark of the second quarter.
After recovering from their slow start, the Hornets took advantage of turnovers, screens and foul calls. They got out to a small lead and could have gone out to a bigger lead if they didn’t miss so many free throws. They started 6-for-11, including misses from Zeller and Kemba who had an opportunity for a 3-point play.
Charlotte held on to the lead for the rest of the half, Batum joining Belinelli at 10 points to help lead the team in scoring at the half. The last couple of minutes were bad basketball both ways as a considerable number of shots going both ways were ugly bricks. After a slow start, the Hornets led 56-52 at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, Charlotte pushed their lead to double digits on the strength of some smart attacking at the rim, poor defense from the Knicks and good defense that led to a Kemba layup off a Rose turnover, 66-56.
The really bad news was that Williams was forced to leave the game in the middle of that run when Walker rolled up on his left leg. He left under his own power, but was forced back to the locker room for further evaluation. It got messy, in general, after that. The Hornets had to pull Walker for a play after a collision, Clifford got a technical foul, then Jeff Hornacek got a technical. All the while, Charlotte kept their significant lead.
And then, Carmelo round two.
Led by Anthony, the Knicks went on a total rampage, outscoring the Hornets 18-2 over the course of a few minutes in the third quarter to retake the lead, 75-72. The Knicks continued to play strong basketball, but Charlotte also steadied themselves to keep the game within five points. At the end of the quarter, Melo was up to 29 points and 10 rebounds, Zeller led all Charlotte players with 15 at that point, Walker made it to 10.
Free throw shooting played a role in their struggles, but that couldn’t account for being flat outplayed. They went from a 13-point lead, to trailing 79-74 heading into the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth, Charlotte was shooting 11-for-21 from the line as a team. After you get past free throws, it was a big issue of the starters, guys like Batum and Walker, not showing up. In a 84-83 game, with eight minutes left, Kaminsky and Belinelli both had more points than Batum or Walker. Fittingly, Batum scored right after that, giving the Hornets a brief lead, 85-84.
Traveling was another issue for the Hornets. After Walker and Hibbert got called for it early in the game, Kaminsky did the same late. A few moments later, Porzingis hit a wide-open 3-point shot. It’s been hard time for anyone attempting to guard Porzingis over the past few games, but it was particularly rough for Kaminsky during this game.
The rest of the fourth quarter was basically must-see basketball. Both teams refused to lose. Porzingis played strong defense, Melo and Rose kept hitting clutch shots. Belinelli returned the favor, Batum did not. Ultimately, down 104-101 with 22 seconds left, Charlotte ran an ATO that didn’t wait for clock, but had Kemba attack the rim immediately for an and-one that resulted in a tie score, 104-104. The Knicks dribbled out the clock and left it in Melo’s hands. His shot couldn’t have come any closer without going in. We got some overtime.
Let’s just say this: Overtime was bananas. Both teams looked ugly for a while. Kaminsky really struggled. Having Kaminsky working on screens instead of Zeller is a tough one. Frank never rolled off, he was the set man for the next motion and lingered around the free throw line. When Zeller runs those, he’s crashing the rim. Positionally, they’re different players and they have different skill sets. You probably wouldn’t want to run plays with a lot of Zeller screens far from the basket if you can just roll him on a center. Kidd-Gilchrist had a very quiet game offensively, but came alive at the very end for a couple of clutch makes to tie up the game at 111. Then with just three seconds left, Anthony hit the dagger, putting the Knicks up 113-111. He finished with 35 points.
There are some strange ways to end games, among them is drawing up a 3-pointer for Isaiah Canaan, which is what Fred Hoiberg did for the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night. Perhaps more bizarre, it was good defense from ex-Bull Rose, a block on a corner 3, that sealed the win for the Knicks. The two teams will run it back in Charlotte tomorrow night.