Joakim Noah, who? Kyle O’Quinn makes MSG his playground


Maybe it was the 18-foot jumper Kyle O’Quinn knocked down early in the fourth quarter, the one that temporarily halted a Timberwolves blitzkrieg and restored a modicum of order to the proceedings …

No, no, that wasn’t it. Maybe this was it: The flurry a few minutes later, after the Knicks had actually handed the lead to Minnesota, the Garden beside itself, wondering if it was watching the worst buzzkill loss of the young season, before O’Quinn tipped a missed Kristaps Porzingis foul shot, missed his own layup, grabbed it (all of this with Karl-Anthony Towns in his grill, by the way), then powered his way in for the layup over a forest of arms that gave the Knicks a 103-102 lead they would never relinquish …

Only, there was one more moment for O’Quinn on this night. He already had scored all of the 20 points he collected (on 9-of-11 shooting) in place of Joakim Noah. He already had collected all 13 rebounds. Now, with just under two minutes left, he stepped in front of Nemanja Bjelica pass, grabbed it, then heaved it ahead 40 feet where Carmelo Anthony was racing for a layup.

And with that, there were 19,812 people who started chanting Kyle O’Quinn’s name. And who had that in the office pool.

 “He saved my ass,” Porzingis said.

Actually, it was more of a collective rescue, O’Quinn stepping into a vast void and simply imposing his will on this game in a way that was equal parts shocking and inspiring, with a trace of charming thrown in the mix, too.

“It feels good,” he said when this 118-114 Knicks victory was complete. “I can’t lie to you.”

It wasn’t just his stunning numeric output, either. Two days after Towns dropped 47 on the Knicks in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves star was shut out for the game’s first 20 minutes, and O’Quinn had just about everything to do with that, too. Towns did finish in a rush, scoring 20 (many of them when O’Quinn was on the bench), but he was a minus-20 for the night, a disparity between one franchise foundation and one journeyman that was impossible to see coming.

Until it arrived. With a thud. With a flash. And with the Garden crying for more.

Good luck to Noah, who missed his fourth game this season (and the Knicks are 4-0 in those games, you may have noticed). Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek was non-committal about possibly sticking with O’Quinn whenever Noah returns, and O’Quinn was quick to praise Noah for “talking me through every play on the bench, like and extra coach.”

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