“One man goes down, another man must step up.”
The old saying is not quite accurate when relating it to the Knicks current plight. For this squad, the mantra may as well be, “Three men go down, one man must step up”.
With the Knicks in a tight race for the division title, the team desperately needed the man it signed to two 10-day contracts to fill the shoes of Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kurt Thomas.
Kenyon Martin quickly emerged as an essential piece of the puzzle due to New York’s injury woes. Head coach Mike Woodson was forced to place Martin in the starting lineup on a sunny Sunday matinee game against the Clippers while Chandler moved to the inactive list with a sore neck. While the Knicks suffered a loss in LaLa Land last Sunday, Martin’s performance foreshadowed the next four outings for the versatile big man.
In Utah the following night, the former No. 1 overall pick joined forces with 40-year old Kurt Thomas to silence the deep and talented frontcourt for the Jazz. Martin finished with nine points and nine boards in New York’s lone victory on the long trip out west.
Over the next three games, Martin sparkled at the center position alongside a spry Carmelo Anthony, who returned to the lineup against the Magic on Wednesday evening at the Garden. Martin was a stable force as the Knicks cruised to another win.
The back-to-back set against the Raptors allowed Martin to really flourish north of the border and in New York City. In Toronto, Martin looked like the Nets version of K-Mart with a highly efficient 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting from the floor. He added 11 boards to the box score in 36 minutes and the Knicks registered their first win over the Raptors this season.
In the victory, Martin’s timing was impeccable -- trailing plays, finishing pick-and-rolls, and rising high for alley-oop and putback dunks. On consecutive possessions, Martin connected on buckets in the paint off feeds from Raymond Felton to extend New York’s lead to seven points with less than five minutes remaining in the contest. Those crucial buckets and a Felton 3-ball vaulted New York over Toronto in a much needed win.
Inside the locker room at Air Canada Centre, Martin’s former teammate in New Jersey Jason Kidd summed it up best, “If we didn’t have him, we would be in trouble right now.”
During both contests against Toronto, Martin reflected his reputation as a top notch defender capable of defending positions one through five. Specifically, he had to defend the Raptors 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas in a direct matchup and switch on screens to guard the bevy of swingmen for Toronto.
Anthony reacted to the performances of his new running mate in the frontcourt, “For him to come on and take the role with Tyson being out and filling that void right now and you can see he is getting his legs back underneath him. You know, he is getting in shape, he means a lot to this team and we need him down the stretch.”
On Saturday night, the MSG crowd received a little taste of Martin’s explosiveness when he scored seven points in the final two and a half minutes of the second quarter. Martin smashed jams, hung on the rim, and left the New York fans in a frenzy heading into the locker room.
“Just tried to stay ready,” Martin preached. “It’s a blessing to be back playing and just trying to stay ready once there was an opportunity for me to play – it’s unfortunate it had to come because of injury.”
In the last three games, Martin has provided the spark by averaging 15.7 points and seven rebounds. Chandler’s return is just around the corner and now New York owns some depth and options along the frontline. The cumulative effect of Martin’s box score totals and momentum shifting plays have become a blessing in disguise for the suddenly surging Knicks.