The last time the Clippers were in the Garden, Charles Oakley was dragged out in handcuffs and the Knicks descended into the darkest days of a dim season.
Less than year later, the vibe has changed, a franchise Unicorn has emerged and the result flipped. About the only consistency was James Dolan slouched in his courtside seat.
Now MSG is a comfort zone for the Knicks, who Monday pummeled the Clippers, 107-85, thanks, in large part, to a third-quarter surge from Kristaps Porzingis and Doug McDermott.
Porzingis wasn’t spectacular – he finished with a game-high 25 points on 7-of-20 shooting – but the Latvian outplayed a frustrated Blake Griffin, who fouled out after missing 11 of his 17 shots. L.A.’s burial run started with a two-point advantage for the Knicks with 6:34 remaining in the third quarter, which turned into 17-point lead just five minutes later.
McDermott and Porzingis dropped nine apiece in the third quarter. The Clippers never recovered.
“Yeah, Dougie McBuckets,” Tim Hardaway Jr. shouted in the locker room, unprompted. “Let ‘em know how it is, boy.”
The Knicks (9-7) improved to 8-3 at the Garden and are benefiting from a schedule with the most home games to start the season in the NBA. They’re now 9-4 since their discouraging start. They also recovered nicely from Sunday’s blowout defeat in Toronto.
“I think they’re resiliency (is the difference from last year’s team),” Jeff Hornacek said. “We started off 0-3 and they could have dropped their heads but they didn’t. They kept working hard in practice. They kept going after it. If you play hard and buy into playing together as a team and not worry about stats, not worrying about what you’re going to do, just figure out what you’re going to do to help the team win things usually turn out pretty well. So I think that’s what our guys have done. We’ve had some losses that we’ve bounced right back from, have won the next game.”
The Knicks led by as many as 26 and breezed in the fourth quarter against the lifeless Clippers (5-11), who’ve lost nine straight and look the part. Their post-Chris Paul existence isn’t going so well.
Griffin was a shining example of frustration, with his night abruptly ending after tripping Porzingis for his sixth foul with about five minutes left. Not long prior, he flattened Tim Hardaway Jr for another foul and picked up a technical.
“It was a great matchup,” Porzingis said. “Every time Blake was attacking or I was attacking against Blake it was a lot of noise, the crowd was making a lot of noise. It was a good matchup. But at the end I’m just happy about the team win.”
The Knicks outscored the Clippers by 27 points when Porzingis was on the floor. Conversely, the Clippers were outscored by 20 when Griffin played.
“The starting lineup was awful,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “It really was.”
Thus far this season, the ‘awful’ labels are more often reserved for the visitors at the Garden. The Knicks are the ones feeling themselves.
“I’m just having more fun than I’ve ever done with this team. It’s just I can’t explain,” McDermott, who previously played on two playoff teams in OKC and Chicago, said. “It’s a very unselfish group. A great young team. I haven’t been part of a team like this since I’ve been in the league.”