There were loving Kemba Walker chants and derogatory Trae Young chants and a great Christmas story for the Knicks at the Garden on Saturday.
When Walker departed with 1:56 left with the NBA’s seventh triple-double on Christmas, Walker received a standing ovation, “Kem-ba Walker” chants and hugs from all his teammates.
Walker’s Bronx Tale comeback story picked up steam on national TV in a 101-87 rout of the Hawks.
“It was amazing,’’ Walker said of the chanting. “Those are moments you dream about. It’s special to be at home with New York on my chest.’’
Walker had just ripped down a rebound off a layup miss, gathering his 10th board. The moment Walker seized the ball, the smart Garden fans were cheering. They knew.
A triple-double on Christmas for the Bronx native who had been banished to the end of the bench for nine straight games earlier this month.
Maybe the chants were about the 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds and the ball movement he sparked that created a 19-3 start. But perhaps it was also because of the grace he showed when stuck in Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks nine-game prison.
It wasn’t long ago, during his exile, after Thibodeau pulled the plug because he wanted more size at the position, Walker was on the bench, cheering diligently for his teammates.
Walker said then he wanted to be a role model for the young players who have looked up to him.
After his fourth straight game of excellence, Walker walked into the interview room in a lavender jacket, a powder blue cloth cap cover on his head. Walker looked as shiny as his game since his return from oblivion just one week ago.
“I take it as a blessing in disguise — God works in mysterious ways, man,’’ Walker said. “He helped me stay humble, grounded and got me through a tough situation. Guys went down and I’m back — the first game [in Boston] versus my old team in the starting lineup. The rest is history.
“This is not how I pictured it. But I’m not complaining, either.’’
In the final seconds of the first half, the Knicks up double digits, another chant started even though it was Christmas Day: “F–k Trae Young.” The Young chant came again with 3:13 left, this time even louder.
Young was home in Atlanta watching the action probably thinking the outcome would have been different had he been on Broadway for the NBA’s biggest day. Probably thinking Walker’s day would’ve been different, too, forced to chase him around.
No matter. This was a big win for the Knicks and a great holiday for Walker, now 2-2 since being relaunched by Thibodeau.
Only “The Grinch’’ would nitpick.
And it was made even better because Julius Randle looked a lot like the 2020-21 version, raining 3s (5 of 8) and finally showing chemistry with Walker. The Walker-Randle tandem was an awkward mess earlier this season.
“Since he came back, he’s come out with a consistent energy,’’ Randle said. “It’s a lot of fun to play with. We’re feeding off each other. We kind of got a second shot at it.’’
Indeed, maybe the Knicks will use Christmas as a new starting point to a season muddled in mediocrity.
With all the COVID-19 sweeping the NBA, including the Hawks and the Knicks, Thibodeau was able to suit up the five starters who performed on opening night.
Full circle has come for the Knicks after all the tinkerings and COVID-19 tests gone wrong. Randle said the Knicks (15-18) are now playing with “joy and happiness.’’
And the new-old starting five looked beautiful at the start of a noon tip-off with a 19-3 beginning that set the tone for the rout.
Walker got it started with a first-possession 3-pointer, a sweeping drive around Bogdan Bogdanovic, a feed to Mitchell Robinson for a dunk off the pick-and-roll. Then Randle started hitting 3-pointers like it was 2020-21.
When the Hawks closed with six late in the second quarter, Walker got Evan Fournier going with long passes ahead to the Frenchman, Thibodeau noted.
“Kemba had control of the game,’’ Thibodeau said.
The Knicks coach said he sees a new “aggressiveness’’ from Walker since his resurrection one week ago in Boston. Walker admits he has “a tendency of not wanting to step on toes.’’
After 20 games, Thibodeau, unhappy with Walker’s play, made the move to Alec Burks and proceeded to go 1-8 with Burks as quarterback. Burks is a nice bench scorer — never to be confused with a floor general until Thibodeau did so.
On Saturday, Thibodeau probably realized his mistake, pulling the plug too soon, not showing enough patience. That revelation was his present on Christmas.
And Walker got his Christmas wish — leading the Knicks to a holiday win, making history — even if Young wasn’t there.