'Explicit' halftime talk leads Knicks to historic win against Toronto

NEW YORK -- About 15 minutes before the Knicks' historic 28-0 run on Wednesday, there was an explicit exchange in the locker room. Coach Jeff Hornacek wasn't happy with New York's effort on defense, and he wasn't shy about sharing his thoughts.

"We came in here, we watched film and Coach kind of got on me. I really didn't like what was being said," Courtney Lee said. "... [It was] a little explicit. I don't think I can repeat what he said to the media. But we exchanged words and we went from there."

Where the Knicks went from there was remarkable. They outscored the Toronto Raptors by 31 points in the third quarter, at one point scoring 28 straight en route to a 108-100 win.

The 28-0 run was the largest in the NBA in eight seasons, and the plus-31 margin was the Knicks' biggest in a quarter in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55).

Several players pointed to the intense halftime discussion as an important factor in the win.

"We had some stronger words for each other and we talked about stuff that we wanted to do better and we came out in the second half and played like a different team," Kristaps Porzingis (22 points, 12 rebounds) said.

Said Tim Hardaway Jr.: "Just a lot of us guys just coming in at halftime and letting it be known that we can't make mistakes like that on defense. ... A lot of us were tentative."

There was nothing tentative about Hardaway or the Knicks in the third quarter. Hardaway scored 12 points during the Knicks' run en route to a career-high 38 points. He got to the free throw line 10 times on Wednesday and also had seven assists and six rebounds.

"He was unbelievable," Porzingis said.

People will probably associate Hardaway with his $71 million contract for the foreseeable future. That's the way it goes in pro sports -- particularly in New York -- when you sign a large contract. (It's worth noting that the Knicks offered him the contract, so if you have an issue with Hardaway's cap hit, you should be angry with Knicks management, not Hardaway.) But no matter how you feel about the $71 million pact, there's no denying Hardaway has made a big impact for New York lately. The shooting guard is averaging 23.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in his past five games.

"I love his intensity," Hornacek says. "He's an intense person out there, sometimes maybe too much, but it's all about winning. He wants to win."

The wins have come for Hardaway and the Knicks lately. New York has won 10 of its past 14 after an 0-3 start, and on Wednesday avenged a blowout loss from last Friday against Toronto.

Lee and Hardaway were key factors Wednesday -- as they have been for much of the past three weeks.

Lee sparked the third-quarter rout, accounting for 13 of the Knicks' first 20 second-half points (11 points, one assist). Hardaway had 12 points, three assists and a block in New York's 28-0 run.

A few months ago, it seemed that the Hardaway signing made Lee expendable. But Knicks management decided that the two shooting guards could thrive together. So far that decision has worked out well. The Knicks have outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 36 minutes when Hardaway and Lee share the floor, according to NBA.com.

"They're both two-way players," Hornacek says. "... Those two guys give us good weapons on both sides of the court."

Of course, Hornacek had harsher words for Lee and other players at halftime Wednesday. The message sunk in -- and the Knicks walked off the floor with a quality win.

There's no way to quantify the impact of the halftime talk. But the idea that the Knicks respond well to internal criticism is important. Players say they can speak openly with one another without worrying about bruised egos or hurt feelings. Criticisms are delivered honestly and without hesitation, and then everyone moves on.

"We can speak to each other freely," Lance Thomas said earlier this season.

That free-flowing conversation led to a historic win Wednesday. And it left the Knicks heading into the Thanksgiving holiday feeling pretty good.

"Our effort and our pace and everything, when it comes together, it's just beautiful basketball," Porzingis said. "We're capable of beating anybody."