Much of Houston’s sporting fan base likely was tuned into a fairly important game in another sport on Wednesday night, but for those at the Garden, there was nothing classic about this fall for the Knicks.
The Knicks wanted no part of Ryan Anderson’s bloated contract in Carmelo Anthony trade talks over the summer, but the Houston forward scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half while James Harden connected for a game-high 31 overall as the Rockets halted the Knicks’ three-game winning streak with an easy 119-97 blowout victory at MSG.
“I don’t know what you guys thought, but to me it looked like they were a little tired,” Jeff Hornacek said of his team, which played its third game in four nights. “When we went to close on guys, we were short. You can’t play soft on these guys and be off four or five feet.
“They can all shoot the crap out of the ball.
Indeed, the Rockets attempted 52 three-point shots, making 19, compared to 8-for-27 for the Knicks. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored a team-best 23 points, but Kristaps Porzingis missed 11 of 18 shots and finished with 19.
The Knicks (3-4) had won their previous three games following an 0-3 start, with Porzingis notching at least 30 points in five of the first six games in his first season as the team’s No. 1 offensive option after Anthony was traded to Oklahoma City on the eve of training camp.
“They were just trying to be physical like all of the teams …Something was missing offensively, just making shots really,” Porzingis said. “We tried to play hard. A lot of it’s also mentally it’s hard when those guys are knocking all those threes in … I think maybe that drained us a little mentally.”
Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Knicks for 3½ years before being fired midway through the 2011-12 season, said before the game he’s been impressed with the strides his former team had been making under Hornacek.
D’Antoni made the playoffs just once during his Knick tenure, getting swept by Boston in the first round following a 42-40 campaign during the 2010-11 season, with Anthony acquired from Denver in a blockbuster February trade. He was fired with an 18-24 record in March of the next season, before replacement Mike Woodson led the Knicks to an 18-6 mark and another playoff berth.
“New York is great,” D’Antoni said. “If we won three games in a row, they thought we were going to win a championship. I was like, wow. The buzz, you could feel it and that’s why it’s a special place.
“It’s tough if you let it be tough, but you also, if you have management and coaches and players all on the same page, then you just live in your little cocoon and you coach and you go into the most exciting place in the world to play basketball…Maybe it’s more intense here a little bit, but everybody’s got the internet and everybody can yell and scream and give their opinion, which is cool. Just don’t respond to it and listen to it, and if you don’t, you can live a very happy life.”
D’Antoni seems to be much happier in Houston, where Harden finished second in MVP voting and led the Rockets to a 55-27 record last season before a second-round playoff loss to San Antonio.
D’Antoni nearly was reunited with Anthony over the summer, but the sides couldn’t come to terms on a deal, mostly because the Knicks didn’t want to take on the remaining three years and $61 million of Anderson’s contract. The Rockets earlier had obtained All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the Clippers, although he missed Wednesday’s game with a knee injury.
The Knicks actually led by as many as eight points in the first quarter, with Porzingis netting nine. Hardaway’s three-pointer to open the second provided a 30-24 cushion, but Anderson pumped in nine points during a 16-0 run for a 40-30 Houston turnaround advantage.
Harden was just 3-for-10 in the first half, but the All-Star guard got hot and erupted for 19 in the third as the Rockets (6-3) blew the game open. His three-pointer in the final minute of the period made it 100-71, the Knicks’ largest deficit of the night.