While Kristaps Porzingis is the face of the franchise, center Enes Kanter is now the heart and soul of the franchise.
Hence, Knicks coach Jeff Hornaceks decision to bench Kanter for the final 3:18 was the wrong one with right intentions. In a conundrum, Hornacek put in Lance Thomas over Kanter to combat Clevelands smallball, 3-point-shooting lineup.
In the teeth of crunch time, Kanters toughness and rebounding were missed on both ends as the Knicks completed their Cleveland collapse in a 104-101 defeat.
In the final 12 seconds, Dwyane Wade tore down an offensive rebound to all but cement the win. Hornacek kept Kanter on the bench still with 4 seconds left and Cleveland up 3 as LeBron James shot free throws. King James missed both, but Jeff Green tapped it back to The King to end matters.
Kanter should have been out there at the very least in those final ticks. Obviously, Hornacek felt the Knicks needed to adjust to Clevelands 3-point-shooting prowess and didnt want both his towering bigs Kristaps Porzingis and Kanter on the floor chasing.
Hornaceks decision could have cost the Knicks the ballgame. Kanter finished with 20 points, 16 rebounds (seven offensive), four assists, one altercation with James and one mocking of his nickname in the postgame locker room. Queen James?
Kanter has been even more valuable than president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry ever could have imagined, with his energy, team spirit and his amazing knack for offensive rebounding (4.2 per game, second in the league).
Kanter stuck up for rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina before the game over James insult, during the game and after the game. The friendly center is a wanted man in his native Turkey, so King James isnt about to scare him.
Its the first time in recent memory a Knick has stood up for his teammate so boldly and forcefully. It was a great sign. Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti makes few mistakes, but his desperation get of Carmelo Anthony for Kanter, sixth-man Doug McDermott and an early second-rounder is looking early on like a dud.
Fans and some media still say Kanter is upping his trade value instead of recognizing at 25, he may be a keeper. Having the Euro trio of Kanter, Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez isnt the worst thing, giving the Knicks a different look as a team that plays through its big men.
The fourth-quarter 43-25 collapse wasnt Hornaceks finest hour. The Knicks coach may have gotten lulled into thinking it was garbage time when Cavs coach Tyronn Lue removed all five of his starters with four minutes left in the third period.
With one minute left in the third, Hornacek put out rookie/garbage-time extraordinaire Damyean Dotson. He was a minus-5 as the lead shrank from 20 to 15 after three, prompting Lue to go for it.
The other puzzler was Hornacek not activating center Joakim Noah on his first game back from drug suspension. The newly minted defensive captain is a noted thorn in James side. Theyve gone at it heatedly over the years. Of course, Hornacek is not an NHL coach, but in retrospect, having Noah in uniform might have sent the right message.
Knicks legend Bernard King told The Post on Monday afternoon that before Porzingis is a serious MVP candidate, he must show he can do it big against the upper-echelon clubs such as the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers. Porzingis didnt pass the test Monday with one of his least effective games 20 points, 7-of-21, a modest seven rebounds. He got pushed around more than usual. James played a role in that, taking the assignment in the second half.
They were getting up in his legs a bit more, Hornacek said. We have to figure out ways to get him the ball a little bit lower on those guys and let him go to work. They were doubling him a few times and he made some good passes.
The back story to all this is James admitted hes heard plenty about Ntilikinas prowess from his best friend from high school, Akrons Romeo Travis, who played with Ntilikina in Strasbourg when it advanced to the French League Finals last season. Hence, James has taken a special interest, even if its partly punking his Akron buddy.
Young kid stands up to the best player in the league, Hornacek marveled. Meanwhile, Hornaceks daughter, Abby Hornacek, who is a sports broadcaster in Chicago, has tweeted support for Ntilikinas Rookie of the Year consideration.
There was a Garden sighting of referee Tony Brothers on Monday. In what the NBA office claimed was mere coincidence, Brothers did not officiate one Knicks game after his Nov. 11 quick ejection last season of Carmelo Anthony in Boston. The day after, Anthony charged that Brothers had it in for him. Brothers was not seen again doing a Knicks contest the rest of the season.