Knicks Stay In Playoff Hunt With Win Over Hawks

Published on: 15th March, 2009

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New York — It was “Noche Latina” night (Latin Night) at the Garden tonight as the Knicks honored the large and growing Knicks fan base of Latin ancestry. The Knicks players wore Nueva York (New York) jerseys as part of the celebration and in fine Latino/Latina form, the Knicks overcame an early first quarter deficit to the Atlanta Hawks to come back and do their own version of a basketball dance, the salsa victory dance, to defeat the Atlantans, 109-105, behind the now-confortable Larry Hughes and a career night from Danilo Gallinari.

The Knicks were playing without their top reserve off the bench, Nate Robinson who is hobbled by a sprained left ankle so it was Gallinari who stepped up to play a career-high 22 minutes while hanging 17 points on the Hawks, mostly on perimeter shooting. The Knicks Number one draft choice, the 6th overall pick in last year’s draft is starting to pay dividends.

“The Knicks were relentless tonight,” said Hawks center, Al Horford. “The rookie Gallinari, he really stepped up, he came in and did a great job for them. I think he was the difference tonight. He really made shots, and was comfortable driving. I was really impressed with him tonight.”

Gallinari’s own coach, Mike D’Antoni, who played with the rookie’s father in Italy during his own playing days, was duly impressed.

“Well, he played great.” D’Antoni said. “We know he is a great shooter and that is the biggest thing. He also knows how to play. When he doesn’t make a good play or something bad happens, it is usually because of a little lack of strength or lack of physical presence. It will come with maturity, and will come when he gets completely over his back.”

Hughes, acquired by the Knicks in a trade with the Chicago Bulls for little-used Jerome James, less-used Anthony Roberson, and the well-traveled Tim Thomas has begun to settle in with his new team after starting out his first three games shooting 3 of 24 from the floor and becoming the Garden crowd’s new target of boos.

“He is a good basketball player, in the right situation.” said D’Antoni. “That is why we made the trade and that is why I was confidentĀ  that he would pick it up. His defense on Joe Johnson tonight, making shots and plays was really good.”

Hughes led the Knicks in scoring for the second time in three games with 23 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals over 41 minutes – his second 20-point performance as a Knick. He is averaging 22.3 points on .510 shooting in his last three games.

Gallinardi, a 6’10” string bean with an unusual level of court sense for a rookie (or a veteran, for that matter) has been bothered all of his rookie season by a back injury that the Knicks have not released details about. The understanding from the conversations the press has had with him is there is a chronic disc problem in his back that causes occasional spasms and pain that shoots down his leg. Whatever it is, those are not symptoms a team or coach wants to hear or deal with. Tonight, though, Gallo, as he’s called by his teammates, played through the back discomfort.

I asked Gallinari in the locker room afterwards if he patterned his style of play after any particular player, if he had ever studied films of anyone in particular.

“All my life, I’ve been watching videos of a lot of different players, especially Michael Jordan,” he told me. “Michael Jordan was and still is my idol.”

I thought to myself, No, this kid has to be thinking about a role model who is more like him, say another 6’10” forward with a wondrous shooting touch from three point land and the ability to make sharp passes to cutting teammates. So I asked, “have you ever studied Larry Bird?”

I have a suspicion this kid, with good health (a big if given the nature of his back ills) will be evoking more comparisons to the Celtics’ great as the years go on. Stay tuned.

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