Tim Hardaway Jr. is fast becoming the Knicks’ reliable second option to Kristaps Porzingis, and Wednesday he was the first.
For the third time in eight days at the Garden, the Knicks rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to squeak out victory as Hardaway grabbed the hero’s role.
The $71 million man grabbed a loose-ball rebound, then sank a 3-pointer over Joe Ingles to lift the Knicks to a four-point bulge with 32.5 seconds left, as they hung on for a 106-101 victory over the Jazz.
A surging Hardaway scored 26 points and Porzingis added 22 — their 1-2 punch that’s so far carried the Knicks (8-6) to a nice start. Rodney Hood racked up 30 points for slumping Utah (6-9).
The Knicks rallied from a 12-point third-quarter deficit to spoil the Garden debut of Westchester product Donovan Mitchell.
Porzingis didn’t have an explosive night, but hit a big 3-pointer down the stretch to key the comeback.
Continuing his recent streak of big games, Hardaway shot 7-of-15 from the field and made four free throws in the final seconds to seal it. He also had six assists and six rebounds.
Porzingis was 8-of-19 after a 1-of-6 start and collected eight rebounds.
The Knicks rallied to within 82-77 after three. In the final seconds of the third, Hardaway ripped down a rebound, pushed the pace and fed a cutting Kyle O’Quinn for a dunk.
With Porzingis on the bench, the Knicks kept coming. Frank Ntilikina, who had a nice fourth quarter, drained two straight mid-range jumpers and the score was knotted after O’Quinn’s offensive rebound led to a driving shot by Doug McDermott that was called goaltending. It tied the score at 91 with 6:42 left.
The Knicks took their first lead since the first period with four minutes left after Courtney Lee grabbed the rebound and fed a sprinting Hardaway, who blazed in for a layup and a 94-93 advantage.
The first half became the Mitchell show as Utah led 60-50. The former Louisville point guard, whom the Knicks considered heavily taking with the eighth pick in last spring’s draft, lit up the Garden while playing in the arena for the first time.
Though he’s from Westchester and grew up a Knicks fan, Mitchell never attended a game with his father, also named Donovan, a career minor-leaguer who works for the Mets in player relations.
Mitchell scorched the Knicks for 17 first-half points, making 7-of-10 shots. He was 3-of-5 from behind the arc — the Knicks’ 3-point defense that was lax in the fourth quarter in the Cleveland debacle rearing its ugly head.
In the opening half, Utah made 10-of-18 3-pointers — Jonas Jerebko sinking a trio and Hood and Ingles bagging a pair from downtown.
Porzingis, for the second straight contest, looked off-kilter. By halftime, he was 4-of-11 against a double-teaming Jazz squad.
Nevertheless, Porzingis made one sparkling play, dribbling away from the double-team and then roaring down the baseline for a resounding stuff. He led the Knicks with 11 points at the intermission.
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