On the eve of college basketball’s Final Four, former March Madness heroes Trey Burke and Kemba Walker staged a throwback duel in Charlotte. The Hornets prevailed 137-128 over the New York Knicks as Walker and Burke reached into the way back machine and dazzled like they were back playing for a slot in the national title game.
Walker is still willing the Hornets into the win column, despite Charlotte’s slim odds of slipping into the eight seed shrinking every day. Meanwhile, the Knicks are evaluating talent for 2018-19. Burke, playing on a one-year deal has been a revelation who’s forcing Steve Mills, Scott Perry and Jeff Hornacek to take a closer look at his long-term fit in the rotation. For four quarters and overtime, Burke and his tightly-coiled cornrows went tit-for-tat with Walker.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) March 27, 2018
With 30 seconds remaining in regulation, New York was on the verge of escaping with their second consecutive road win until Walker whipsawed the Hornets into overtime with a pair of counters on the final two possessions of regulation. Trailing 117-114 after Tim Hardaway Jr.’s triple put the Knicks ahead, Walker sidestepped Michael Beasley as he attempted to close out by dribbling to the right, squaring up and drilled the tying 3-pointer.
On their final possession, the Knicks trusted the hot hand, allowing Burke to dribble out the clock and take the last shot. However, Walker poked the ball away from Burke as he set him up off the dribble. Burke regained possession in a mad scramble to beat the clock, but was only able to hoist a desperation air-ball from distance.
“Down the stretch, I had to do something,” Walker told reporters afterwards. “Trey (Burke) was wearing me out. You know he was shooting the basketball awesome tonight, and that was just it.”
In overtime, Walker and Burke continued parrying one another, but the Hornets All-Star traveled to a higher plane, unleashing an 11-point barrage that the Knicks couldn’t withstand. After Charlotte won the tip off, Walker dribbled off a pick and roll, buried a three and never looked back.
Walker won the individual battle, but we’ve come to accept 31 points on 11-of-21 shooting and seven assists as quotidian from him. This was only Walker’s second-most memorable performance in the last week. He deposited 46 points one week ago in a historic decimation of the Memphis Grizzlies and at the close of business he was 20 points away from eclipsing Wardell Curry Sr. as the career scoring leader in Pelicans, errr…. Hornets history.
Conversely, Burke was just thrust into the starting lineup after a string of strong performances as a backup. He scored 19 in the Knicks 101-97 victory in his first start Sunday. On the second night of a road back-to-back, Burke made Hornacek look competent for displacing Emmanuel Mudiay as the starter. In the loss, Burke provided a further argument for why he should continue starting for the remainder of the season as the Knicks evaluate their roster for next season.
After spending the final season of his rookie deal collecting splinters on Washington’s pine in a career-low 12 minutes a game, Burke, 25, found himself toiling on the Knicks G-League squad. In 26 games as a Westchester Knick, he averaged 26.6 points on 48.8 shooting, 5.3 asists and 1.9 steals a night before the Knicks called him up.
Burke’s 42 points on 19-31 shooting was the highest single-game scoring total of any individual Knick this season. And he didn’t this outside the flow of the offense. Burke distributed the rock as well, registering 12 assists in 41 minutes.
It remains to be seen how much the Knicks value Burke. However, he’s done enough to prove that his reinvention isn’t a fluke even if his out-of-body Iverson moment was only temporary. At best, he may not measure up to Walker. Even if he doesn’t remain with the Knicks, the former top-10 lottery pick’s prospects aren’t as bleak as they were one year ago. After climbing the ladder from G-League starter, to Knicks reserve and now thriving as the Knicks starter, front office evaluators may actually take notice when his contract expires this summer.
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