Knicks, Behind Rookie Russian Center Defeat Pistons

Published on: 31st January, 2011

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New York –   At the end of tonight’s Knicks win over the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden, the sellout crowd once more launched into it’s familiar “MVP, MVP” refrain when the Knicks big man came to the foul line to take two late game free throws. Down from the rafters came the same chant these Knicks fans have been reigning down to the court almost since the season began.

Except, the target of their joyous MVP! chant tonight was none other than the Knicks backup center from Russia, Timofey Mozgov, the seven-footer who had not seen the light of day on the basketball court in ten games.

In tonight’s 124-106 win, Mozgov put up numbers that astounded everyone, including Knicks coach, Mike D’Antoni. He played a career-high 40 minutes, scored a career-high 23 points, grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds (including five offensive rebounds) while shooting a nifty 9 of 15 from the floor (six dunks). He even hit five of his six foul shots.

Yes, it was a career night for the new darling of Knicks fans. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The Knicks were playing extremely short-handed in the frontcourt, with neither Wilson Chandler (sore left calf) nor Shawne Williams (suspended for one game following a fight in Atlanta) available for the game.

In typical Mozgov fashion, the young center tempered his excitement about tonight’s performance.

“I was excited,” Mozgov said afterwards. “It was really, really good.

The kid didn’t look excited when he said it but the 23-year old Russian has significantly less skills with the English language than he possesses on the basketball court. He tried to convey his feelings to the press after his breakthrough game.

“You know, I do nothing (differently) for this game,” he said. “I do just what I do for every game. I work with the coaches – nothing special for this game.”

It appears Mozgov needs to continue to do nothing special in preparation for the remainder of his games, based on the very special night he enjoyed tonight.

“We always like him,” D’Antoni said. “We thought he had that potential. It just seemed like he was going to way too fast earlier [in the season].”

Mozgov, who had played in a lower level Russian league last season,  took the adversity of being somewhat over his head to work even harder on his game.

“The thing he did, which Toney Douglas did last year, was he kept working every day, kept working with our coaches and staying ready to go. He got a break today and he was unbelievable. He really played well and hopefully he can continue.”

It was a good thing Mozgov contributed when he did. The Knicks are hurting these days at the center position, with Amar’e Stoudemire, their true MVP candidate playing on two banged up knees while backup center, Rony Turiaf has been hobbled most of this season with an assortment of injuries which have limited his minutes, including shoulder and hip sprains. 

“Tim played great,” Stoudemire said in the locker room as both his knees and right ankle were weighted down with ice packs. “He’s one of those players who keeps working and keeps trying to improve. He’s a young player. Coach said I did a great job with him, keeping him in shape and keeping him enthused. He played well tonight.”

Mozgov’s performance was no surprise to Danilo Gallinari, who, according to D’Antoni had his best game of the season, scoring 29-points on 7 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 7 from three-point land and 11 of 11 from the free throw line.

“Timofey had a tough beginning but never put his head down and he had a great game,” said Gallinari. “He works so hard in practice. He showed things today that we know he can do because he does it every day in practice.”

The game was surprisingly close through three quarters as Detroit rode the hot hand of Mt. Vernon product, Ben Gordon, who scored a season-high 35 points in his return to his roots and the court where he became famous as a UConn Huskie.

“You got to give them a lot of credit,” said Gordon. “D’Antoni’s system is great and they have a lot of great players. A possible MVP candidate in Stoudemire, great point guard in Felton. Their big man, Mozgov played really well. Gallinari did his thing. We just didn’t have an answer for it.”

The Pistons had answers until the final quarter, when the Knicks took off on a 33-15 advantage to put the game out of reach. Stoudemire, who scored 26 points in the second half, chipped in 10 in the quarter while Gallinari shot a perfect 100% from the floor (2 of 2), the three-point stripe (2 of 2), and the foul line (5 of 5) to lead the Knicks with 11 fourth quarter points.

But, it was Mozgov’s night as the crowd kept their tongues firmly in their cheeks, not only with their MVP chants but with chants of “Mozgov, Mozgov!!” as time was running out.

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