New York Knicks: Who Stepped Up Against The Houston Rockets?

Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) drives towards the basket against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks concluded a three-game road trip with a 129-122 loss to the Houston Rockets. Who stepped up for New York against Houston?

The New York Knicks entered the biggest game of the season thus far with a shorthanded rotation. Prior to tipoff, it was announced that starters Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee, as well as super sub Kyle O’Quinn, would miss the outing due to injuries.

The odds were stacked even higher when it was announced that Carmelo Anthony missed the second half of the clash with the Houston Rockets with a knee injury.

James Harden took over with one of the greatest performances in NBA history as the Rockets downed the Knicks, 129-122. Harden posted 53 points, 17 assists, and 16 rebounds on 14-of-26 shooting from the field.

As a team, Houston converted 21 3-point field goals, dished out 30 assists, and attempted 29 free throw attempts en route to the 129-point eruption.

As a result of New York’s loss, it falls to 16-17 overall and 5-12 on the road after 33 games. It’s currently on a four-game losing streak and has lost seven of its past nine outings en route to its current standing.

The question is: who stepped up for the New York Knicks against the Houston Rockets on New Year’s Eve?

Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) has an inside shot blocked by New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14) during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Willy Hernangomez

The New York Knicks have invested four-year contracts in three centers: Willy Hernangomez, Joakim Noah, and Kyle O’Quinn. With O’Quinn sidelined by an injury, Hernangomez received the opportunity step up against the Houston Rockets.

Though Hernangomez struggled as a scorer, he made a powerful mark on the game by dominating the boards during his time on the court.

Hernangomez posted two points, 10 rebounds, three offensive boards, and one block in 19 minutes of action. He did so on 1-of-5 shooting from the field and a 1-of-2 mark at the free throw line, but his game was about more than the shooting marks.

Hernangomez’s effort and tenacity was one of the primary reasons for New York’s strong start to the 2016-17 regular season.

Hernangomez posted a plus-minus of +4, which tied for the second-best mark on the team. He’s now recorded at least 10 points or 10 rebounds in five different games during the month of December.

Hernangomez is still a work in progress on both ends of the floor, but he’s already established himself as quite the rebounder.

Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks guard Justin Holiday (8) drops back on defense against the Houston Rockets during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Holiday

When the New York Knicks traded for Derrick Rose, many labeled Justin Holiday as nothing more than a throw-in. Rather than cutting him from the roster, however, the Knicks kept him around to determine his value to the team.

Against the Houston Rockets, Holiday further established his value and status as one of the most valuable players on the Knicks’ roster.

Holiday was outstanding, recording 15 points, six rebounds, one offensive board, and four steals in 30 stellar minutes. He shot 6-of-12 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range, and did so while committing just one turnover.

Holiday got the job done on both ends of the floor for a Knicks team that’s learning to expect timely contributions from the 27-year-old shooting guard.

Holiday is now averaging 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.3 3-point field goals made per game. It’s no coincidence that his increase in production has coincided with a rise in his production.

If Holiday can maintain this type of production from hereon out, the Knicks’ second unit will rank amongst the best in the NBA.

Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) pulls up for a three-point shot while Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) defends during the third quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Jennings

Over the course of the previous four games, Brandon Jennings had scored a combined 11 points. He continues to facilitate the offense as well as any sixth man in the NBA, but his issues as a scorer had created cause for concern.

Matched up against Eric Gordon, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets, Jennings had his best game in a New York Knicks uniform.

Jennings went off for 32 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and one block in 41 phenomenal minutes. He did so on 12-of-22 shooting from the field, 3-of-8 shooting from distance, and 5-of-7 shooting from the free throw line.

Jennings scored at a genuinely elite rate, facilitated the Knicks’ offense, and did an outstanding job of playing both with and without the ball.

Jeff Hornacek has been encouraging Jennings to shoot with less restraint. He did exactly that against the Rockets, as he displayed a sense of urgency early in the first quarter and didn’t slow up the rest of the way.

It may have come in a loss, but Jennings made quite the statement during his first game with extended playing time alongside Rose.

Nov 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas (91) during a game at Target Center. The Knicks defeated the Timberwolves 106-104. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Mindaugas Kuzminskas

Mindaugas Kuzminskas was absolutely sensational against the Houston Rockets. He was limited to 16 minutes of playing time, but he stepped up to combat the run Houston went on to create a seemingly insurmountable gap.

Though he didn’t play a high number of minutes, Kuzminskas made the most of his opportunity to earn future playing time with his showing against the Houston Rockets.

Kuzminskas finished with 14 points, two rebounds, one assist, and a steal in his 16 minutes of action. He shot 5-of-9 from the field, 2-of-5 from 3-point range, and 2-of-2 from the free throw line in a game that built upon his existing efficiency.

Whether it was a clutch 3 or a powerful dunk, Kuzminskas found ways to make a crucial impact against the Rockets.

Kuzminskas scored 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter. New York fell behind by 19 points against Houston, but Kuz’s contributions came at a perfect time and helped the Knicks maintain a respectable rate of play.

Lance Thomas is beginning to play well again, but Kuzminskas is making quite the case for more playing time.

Dec 20, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) brings the ball up-court during the second half against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Joakim Noah

New York Knicks starting center Joakim Noah has begun to play at a high level on a consistent basis. He struggled against the New Orleans Pelicans, however, which elevated the level of pressure he faced against the Houston Rockets.

With a chance to help his team defeat the Rockets, Noah continued what’s been a consistent stretch of exceptional production.

It took Noah just 29 minutes to have another monster game from a statistical perspective. He posted 15 points, 16 rebounds, four offensive boards, two assists, and a block while converting seven of his 10 field goal attempts.

Noah struggled at the free throw line, but the sample size was small and his recent improvement in said regard has been encouraging.

Noah has recorded at least 14 points and 16 rebounds in two of New York’s past three games. He’s been an explosively productive rebounder throughout the 2016-17 NBA regular season, and seems to be more comfortable in his own skin.

If the past few weeks are a sign of things to come, then Noah and the Knicks seem to be a better match than previously expected.

Dec 20, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek and guard Derrick Rose (25) look on during the second quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick Rose

The New York Knicks are learning exactly why Derrick Rose was a fan favorite with the Chicago Bulls. He’s still piecing it together as far as his skill set is concerned, but his athletic ability appears to have returned to an elite level.

There are a number of dynamic playmakers in the NBA, but few have the end-to-end speed, hang time, or finishing ability that Rose possesses.

Rose finished the 129-122 loss to the Rockets with 21 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and two steals in 41 minutes. He didn’t shoot especially well at 8-of-23 from the field, but he made a 3-point field goal and went 4-of-5 from the free throw line.

Most importantly: Rose scored 21 points, tallied seven assists, and consistently drove the lane without committing a single turnover.

Rose’s floater has become one of the most lethal shots in the NBA. True and valuable as that is, Rose’s improvement from midrange and beyond the arc was on display against Houston as he found his range on multiple occasions.

If Rose can continue to look this strong physically and maintain a steady work ethic, he’ll have a genuine opportunity to rediscover his All-Star form.

It may have been another tough loss, but down four key players, the Knicks had one of their most encouraging showings of the season.

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