Whoever is sticking pins into a Knicks point guard voodoo doll needs to stop.
The hex on Tom Thibodeau’s playmakers didn’t prevent the Knicks from a last-second, 94-93 victory Thursday against the sliding Magic, but it will against a decent team.
One of those voodoo pins missed the Flying Frenchman, Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ last point guard standing.
Reggie Bullock’s last-second steal off Evan Fournier won the game, but Ntilikina won the night when he tore down the lane, tried to leap over Orlando center Nikola Vucevic for a tomahawk (sort of) slam dunk. The ball bounced off the front rim, falling through as he drew the foul.
“It was a good play,’’ Ntilikina said. “I wanted to be aggressive on the play. The guard was looking at the screen.’’
The Garden crowd was smaller than the usual socially distanced throngs of 2,000 — probably because of the opponent. But it roared like it was a pre-pandemic full house.
“It was really nice,’’ said Julius Randle, who put up 17 assists to help the point guard-decimated Knicks. “I liked it. He should do more of it. He was really good and helped us win the game.’’
Ntilikina, started and finally broke out of his painful scoring drought to save the Knicks with 12 of his season-high 13 points in the second half.
“I really think Frank play a very good game all around,’’ Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s taking the right shots. And as long as he does that, we believe in the process of him working on those shots and when he’s open shoot them well, and some are going to go, some won’t. That’s part of the game. So just having the courage to continue to take them, you’re wide open.’’
Another Knicks point guard couldn’t play Thursday in popular rookie and recent starter Immanuel Quickley, who has an ankle sprain. Thibodeau had to perform a Broadway shuffle to patch another hole to his leaky ship.
Ultimately the coach pulled swingman Alec Burks out of his hat to fill a the vacuum. And it didn’t hurt that Randle upped his superb playmaking another couple of notches with 17 assists — most by a Knicks big man since 1970 along the way to a triple-double.
But they couldn’t do it unless Ntilikina got out of his funk, entering the night scoreless in his last four games. Late in the first half, Ntilikina was on his way to notching his fifth straight scoreless game — which had only been done by one player in the past three seasons who recorded at least seven minutes in each of those contests, according to Elias Sports Bureau. His streak of missed field goals had grown to 16.
In the final seconds of the first half, Ntilikina carried another goose egg before drawing a foul as he dribbled to the basket without looking to shoot. But Orlando was in the penalty. Ntilikina went to the line, badly bricked his first try before sinking the next one to break his personal shutout.
In the second half, the Seine River, which tends to flood in February, spilled over its banks on March 18.
To start the third quarter, Ntilikina went wild. He banged in two straight 3-pointers. Feeling his mojo, he then took it to Vucevic. As Orlando rallied from 17 down to take a lead, Ntilikina put the Knicks back on top with a corner 3 for an 88-87 lead.
With Rose making a Garden appearance in spectacles and still out on COVID-19 protocols, Payton nursing his lingering hamstring strain, Austin Rivers nursing a lingering bruised ego and Quickley out with a bum ankle, Thibodeau was down to Ntilikina. And Burks.
Johnnie Bryant, the former Jazz assistant, has kept pushing for Burks, whom he saw perform capable point work in Utah. Burks had 21 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
“He’s a veteran. You can’t speed him up,’’ Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau was content to have Ntilikina on the bench and Burks close it out.
Spinning away from Fournier, Burks drove the lane and sank a floater while getting pushed. He missed the free throw but had given the Knicks a three-point lead with 30.4 seconds left. It was enough.
In the end, the Garden chanted a familiar New York baseball chant “Reg-gie, Reg-gie’’ after Bullock ripped the ball away from Fournier with 12 seconds left to preserve the win.
Bullock got the ball over to Burks, backup point guard for a night, and he dribbled away the final seconds, eluding Orlando defenders. The buzzer sounded. Ntilikina led a charge off the bench as the players swarmed Bullock at center court in a giddy playoff-like scene.
Big night for the Knicks, who already have matched last season’s win total at 21. Big night for Ntilikina.
Originally published at https://nypost.com/2021/03/19/frank-ntilikina-gives-point-guard-short-knicks-a-big-lift/ on .