PHOENIX â€” Sasha Vujacic spent most of this season maligned by fans and benched by coaches, a punching bag for the analytics worshippers as he tried to revive an NBA career that went dormant for the last five years.
Vujacicâ€™s output through the first four games of March included a grand total of four minutes and zero points. So when he was announced as a starter Wednesday, it was a bit of a surprise move from coach Kurt Rambis â€“ and one that was met with immediate backlash from fans on social media.
â€œOne of those gut things that coaches have,â€ joked Rambis.
Vujacic, the 32-year-old former fiancÃ© of Maria Sharapova, nailed his first seven shots, including six from beyond the arc, while dropping 23 points â€“ the most heâ€™s scored since he was a New Jersey Net in 2011. Vujacic complemented Carmelo Anthonyâ€™s 23 points and Derrick Williamsâ€™ fourth-quarter dunk show, as the Knicks punished the miserable Suns, 128-97, on Tuesday, giving spectator Phil Jackson something to feel good about before the teamâ€™s four-day trip to L.A.
Sasha Vujacic finished just three points shy of a career-high.
Vujacic, who started in place of injured Arron Afflalo (abdominal strain suffered in Tuesdayâ€™s loss to the Nuggets), was bullish in the locker room post game.
â€œI think we looked like a playoff team,â€ he said. â€œWe played team basketball, especially on defense. When we do that, I donâ€™t think there are many teams in the NBA that can beat us.â€
It is the first time the Knicks (27-39), who shot an amazing 67% on their 24 3-point attempts Wednesday, have won two of three games since Jan. 20. The Suns (17-47) lived up to their awful reputation, especially defensively. The 128 points were the most the Knicks scored all season, and their 36-point advantage in the fourth quarter was also a season-high.Â
Williams scored all 18 of his points in the final 11 minutes â€“ six on alley-oops and two on a windmill dunk â€“ while Anthony got to rest the entire fourth quarter.
â€œMuch needed,â€ said Anthony, who had played at least 39 minutes in each of the previous three games. â€œMuch needed. Anytime I can sit out in the fourth, Iâ€™ll take it.â€
Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points, but Kristaps Porzingis continued to struggle in 22 minutes.
One Knick who continued to struggle, however, was rookie Kristaps Porzingis, (13 points) who missed eight of his 10 field goal attempts and played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
A day earlier, the Latvian turned defensive while refuting the theory that heâ€™s fatigued.
â€œIt happens. Bad games happens. Two or three games later I have a great game,â€ Porzingis said after scoring just six points with three turnovers in 27 minutes against the Nuggets. â€œItâ€™s just ups and downs, especially my rookie season. Itâ€™s all a learning experience, especially some games you donâ€™t feel as well, some games you feel better. But I try to find that consistency where I can play at the same level. Iâ€™m not there yet.â€
After starting the season with 18 double-doubles, Porzingis hasnâ€™t logged one in more than a month. Attempts from Rambis to transform Porzingis into a low-post scorer havenâ€™t panned out.
â€œSometimes he gets a little too eager looking for his shot. Heâ€™s got to be more patient, allow things to come to him,â€ Rambis said. â€œI understand his frustration, heâ€™s a very talented offensive player. And weâ€™ve got to do a better job as a team to making sure heâ€™s involved more. But he still canâ€™t go off on his own looking for his own shot. He was one of the guys (Tuesday) â€” and he wasnâ€™t the only one by any stretch of the imagination â€” who started this cycle of settling for jump shots. That really turned to tide for us.â€Â
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