In the closing seconds of last night's 124-106 Knicks win over the Pistons, the Madison Square Garden crowd started chanting "Moz-GOV! Moz-GOV!" In the annals of unlikely happenings at MSG this season, this is below a second-round pick becoming the heart of the team (and the jersey on Spike Lee's back), but above just about everything else. In the last two months, Timofey Mozgov has played a total of about 39 minutes. Last night: 39 minutes, 48 seconds. Coming into the game, Mozgov had averaged 2.3 points a game and 2.0 rebounds. Last night, he had 23 points and 14 rebounds. That'll get your name chanted.
Before anyone gets too excited, it's worth remembering that the Pistons are a small team, even more so last night with Ben Wallace out of the lineup. Mozgov's job last night was mostly to follow up missed shots with dunks over tinier Pistons, and he did that job as well as anyone could have hoped. He'll still get beaten senseless against huge teams like the Celtics, and we're still not entirely convinced his hands aren't made of Legos. But the off-season mystery man had his Knicks folklore moment last night. We bet Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov knows his name now (something he denied when the Knicks signed him).
Amar'e Stoudemire scored 33 points and Danilo Gallinari added 29 in a game that was close until the fourth quarter, when the Knicks outscored the Pistons 33-15. Mozgov was only receiving minutes because Wilson Chandler was out with an injury and Shawne Williams was suspended; the situation was so dire that Mike D'Antoni even put in Anthony Randolph — who had played five minutes over the last month-plus — in the first quarter. Randolph did little to make anyone believe some team is going to trade a first-round for him, but the Knicks are still holding out hope.
The win was hardly impressive — the Pistons are now 17-31 on the year — but it was a victory over a lesser team, which the Knicks need to knock down with regularity if they're going to hang on to their sixth-playoff seed. (The Knicks in the playoffs! It really might happen! Let's remember how crazy that is.) Back on December 15, we looked at the Knicks' difficult schedule over the next 40 days, and we noted that they could conceivably go 7-14. That stretch ended on Friday against Atlanta. They ended up going 8-13, so we were awfully close. (The win over the Heat made the difference.) Now the Knicks hit their next stretch, leading up to the February 24 trade deadline. Here are the games between now and then:
February 2: vs. Dallas
February 4: at Philadelphia
February 6: vs. Philadelphia
February 9: vs. L.A. Clippers
February 11: vs. L.A. Lakers
February 12: at New Jersey
February 16: vs. Atlanta
February 23: vs. Milwaukee
Then the trade deadline, which may bring Carmelo Anthony, or maybe not, who knows? The Knicks could very well go 5-3 during that eight-game stretch, which would keep them about where they are now. Which is probably enough. If Mozgov can remain a force underneath, it can be even more. The Knicks have made it through the tough part, and are still learning about what works and what doesn't. One never knows what'll happen next. Maybe it'll be Carmelo. Maybe it'll be chants of "Moz-GOV!" All we know, at this point, is that each game at the Garden will matter. That's all anyone could have hoped for.