Walker’s triple-double leads Knicks over Hawks, 101-87

Sports
Kemba Walker

New York Knicks guard Kemba Walker (8) passes over Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

NEW YORK (AP) — Kemba Walker couldn’t have envisioned this Christmas.

Less than two weeks ago, his coach wouldn’t even call his name.

On Saturday, his hometown fans were chanting it.

Walker became the seventh NBA player with a triple-double on Christmas, and the New York Knicks beat the depleted Atlanta Hawks 101-87 for their first win on the holiday in a decade.

“It was amazing,” Walker said. “Those are moments that you dream about. It’s kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest.”

Julius Randle had 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks in a matchup of teams that met in the first round of last season’s playoffs. But the Hawks were missing Trae Young among nine players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, so it wasn’t much of a rematch of Atlanta’s five-game victory.

Walker finished with 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot guard raced around the floor trying desperately for his 10th rebound for much of the second half, finally getting it in the fourth quarter when Mitchell Robinson’s block came to him.

It was the first triple-double on Christmas since Golden State’s Draymond Green in 2017, continuing Walker’s strong stretch since going from a nine-game stint out of the rotation to back in the starting lineup when the Knicks were short-handed.

He said he couldn’t have foreseen things turning so quickly.

“This is not how we pictured it,” he said. “I ain’t complaining, either.”

Fans in the sold-out crowd chanted “Kemba Walker! Kemba Walker!” for the New York native, who scored 44 points in a loss to Washington on Thursday.

“As a teammate, as a brother, I’m happy for him that he’s able to come out and be who he is,” Randle said. “I’m sure when he signed to come here this is kind of what he envisioned, playing the type of basketball that he’s playing right now.”

Evan Fournier and Quentin Grimes each scored 15 points for the Knicks, who snapped a six-game Christmas skid. They are 23-31 in their league-high 54 appearances, but hadn’t won one since 2011.

John Collins and Delon Wright each scored 20 points for the Hawks, who were playing on Christmas for the first time since 1989. They had their six-game road winning streak snapped.

Young starred in his first playoff series last spring against New York, ignoring profane taunts by Knicks fans and getting the last word when he bowed to them near the close of Atlanta’s clinching Game 5 victory.

But he couldn’t clear protocols in time for a coveted spot on the calendar, and playing short-handed caught up with the Hawks. Coach Nate McMillan said some players even asked to be subbed out of the game, which he said never happens.

“It wasn’t a lack of energy,” McMillan said. “I think our guys are tired. They’ve been logging a lot of minutes.”

The Knicks made their first seven shots and raced to a 19-3 lead on Randle’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left in the first quarter.

They blew it open in the third quarter, and consecutive 3-pointers by Grimes and Taj Gibson to open the fourth gave New York its biggest lead at 87-66. From there the only drama was whether Walker would get one more rebound.

The Hawks’ injury report took three tweets from the team’s official account to list, and besides Young featured key players such as Kevin Huerter, Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari. Clint Capela returned from protocols and had six points and nine rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Knicks are getting healthier. RJ Barrett returned to the starting lineup and Grimes made his first appearance since setting a Knicks rookie record with seven 3-pointers and scoring 27 points against Milwaukee on Dec. 12. He was then placed into protocols and missed the last five games.

TIP-INS

Hawks: Signed guards Anthony “Cat” Barber and Malik Ellison, both playing this season for the College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s NBA G League affiliate, to 10-day contracts. Ellison is the son of former No. 1 draft pick Pervis Ellison.

Knicks: Hall of Famer Bernard King, who set the Christmas record of 60 points playing for the Knicks in 1984, was at the game. … The Knicks are down to just Nerlens Noel, Miles McBride and Jericho Sims in protocols. Immanuel Quickley and Kevin Knox II have been cleared but need to regain their conditioning before playing.

CHRISTMAS TRIPLE-DOUBLES

On Saturday night in Brooklyn’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets’ James Harden became the eighth player with a Christmas triple-double. Los Angeles’ Russell Westbrook had his second career holiday triple-double. LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, Billy Cunningham and John Havlicek also have accomplished the feat, with Robertson doing it four times.

HOLIDAY HOOPS HISTORY

The Hawks fell to 9-12 on Christmas. They are 2-1 against the Knicks, with both victories coming when they were based in St. Louis.

UP NEXT

Hawks: Host Chicago on Monday.

Knicks: Visit Minnesota on Tuesday to begin a four-game road trip.

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