While the Knicks ultimately fell down the stretch of Wednesday's 109-104 loss to the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, New York emerged with optimism after Frank Ntilikina's performance.
Ntilikina's season-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including three free throws and two triples, in 32:54 fueled the Knicks (4-11) before the Sixers (9-5) came back for the fourth-quarter triumph.
David Fizdale's decision to substitute Ntilikina late in the third quarter hindered the Knicks during the Sixers' eventual 23-3 run from the 3:20 mark of the third to the 9:00 point of the fourth, turning a 77-60 Knicks lead to an 83-82 Sixers edge, but the third-year point guard defended his second-year head coach's move after the game.
"I was getting a little tired and Fiz' is doing a good job with that, rotating our players in," said Ntilikina, who added a rebound and a block. "We trust everyone on the court -- everyone, from the court to the bench -- everyone is coming in to bring everything that they can to the team and that's what happened tonight."
Fizdale pulled Ntilikina for Dennis Smith Jr., who scored 13 points -- 10 in the first half -- off the bench.
"(Ntilikina had a) huge impact, but I also thought Dennis played a very good basketball game as well," Fizdale said. "I just think that ... we went on our run, they came back, they picked up the pressure against us and they went on their run. And that's just what the game is, is a game of flows and like I keep saying, as long as we give ourselves a chance, I'm always going to be proud of our group."
Ntilikina entered the game against the Sixers with 5.2 points, 3.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals on average through 13 games (nine starts).
"It's just getting better and better and better and more confident," Fizdale said. "And like I said, it's -- we've gone through so much noise, (Ntilikina) and I together, and I'm just so proud of him, with the way he's handled everything and now how he's just not even thinking about it. As you could see, he's just out there playing and having fun, and all the team, we all have a lot of confidence in him."
"He's just getting better, and better, and better...I'm so proud of him"- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) November 21, 2019
- David Fizdale on Frank Ntilikina pic.twitter.com/8MNd4jlrRg
Since last Tuesday's 120-102 road loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Knicks have been competitive while they split their subsequent four games.
The Knicks' three-game homestand over the weekend started with last Thursday's 106-103 win over the Dallas Mavericks, followed by last Saturday's 103-102 loss to the Charlotte Hornets and Monday's 123-105 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ntilikina's effort highlighted the recent trend small forward Marcus Morris, who dropped a game-high 22 points, has seen out of his team throughout the past week.
"My biggest thing to my entire team is stay aggressive," he said. "We need (Ntilikina) to stay aggressive and as soon as I said something, he turned it up and it was big for us and he's coming along, man. It's like I said earlier, I'm excited to see how he continues to grow and I'm just here to help him -- I call it putting a battery in his back. I just push him."
"I was getting a little tired, Fiz is doing a good job with that...we trust everyone on our court"- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) November 21, 2019
- Frank Ntilikina pic.twitter.com/FHc7jsuve2