Jeff Hornacek cursed out Courtney Lee, and the Knicks had their best quarter ever

Jeff Hornacek prepares to unleash a string of expletives more foul than any Courtney Lee has ever heard. (AP)
Jeff Hornacek prepares to unleash a string of expletives more foul than any Courtney Lee has ever heard. (AP)

Through two quarters on Wednesday night, the New York Knicks had looked like they were just counting down the hours until Thanksgiving dinner. They’d allowed the Toronto Raptors to score 59 points, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 10-for-23 from 3-point land as a team, with the All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry controlling the game to take an 11-point lead into the locker room at halftime.

And then, the third quarter started.

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The Knicks went nuts after intermission. They cranked up the defensive pressure, holding a scattered Raptors team scoreless for nearly 8 1/2 minutes while forcing six Toronto turnovers leading to 11 points. They went to work in the screen and roll, with Tim Hardaway Jr. looking for his own shot and setting the table for Enes Kanter, as New York torched the several-steps-slow Raptors defense in a steady march to the front of the rim.

The Knicks scored 28 unanswered points — twenty-eight in a row — to turn a 10-point deficit into an 18-point lead, leaving the Raptors stunned and the Madison Square Garden crowd roaring. By the time the buzzer sounded, New York had hung a 41-10 third quarter on the visitors, giving themselves enough of a cushion to withstand a late Raptors run, allow Hardaway the breathing room to enjoy himself a little bit at the expense of a fallen referee in the closing seconds …

… and finish off a 108-100 win.

After the game, inquiring minds wanted to know: what the hell got into the Knicks in the locker room to spark the most lopsided quarter by any NBA team in eight years, and the best frame of New York basketball since the introduction of the shot clock more than six decades ago?

“We just challenged guys at halftime,” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek said, according to Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “We challenged them at halftime to get up and get after guys and put pressure, make nothing easy, and they responded in that third quarter. They were great.”

“Challenged,” huh? OK, cool. So, like, what kind of challenge?

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Said star big man Kristaps Porzingis, who worked off the ball for most of the deciding run, scoring only two of the Knicks’ 28 unanswered points: “At halftime we had some strong words for each other, we talked about stuff we wanted to do better and we came out in the second half looking like a different team.”

The strongest words, apparently, passed between Hornacek and shooting guard Courtney Lee. From Botte:

“We came in here, we watched film and coach kind of got on me,” Lee said, adding that Hornacek’s words were “a little explicit.”

“I really didn’t like what was being said. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a player. You’re supposed to respond,” Lee continued. “And not only did I respond, but everybody on the team was out there and we played great defense in the second half. I don’t think I can repeat what [Hornacek] said, to the media. But we exchanged words and we went from there, responded and we got the win.”

More from Lee on the halftime hash-out, via Steve Popper of the Bergen Record:

“It was [Hornacek’s] opinion versus my opinion on effort and tactics and everything. We got it corrected and we went out there and we competed. It’s contagious. One person goes out there and gives effort on the defensive end and then the next man is doing it. We even had Jarrett Jack, who’s 38, out there moving his feet.”

Jack is 34, so the next war of words might be between Lee and Jack.

Which specific expletives the coach used remain unclear. (What a precious gift for those of us who need to kill some time this holiday weekend, that we can while away a few hours wondering just how creative a curser Jeff Hornacek can be!) Whatever they were, though, Lee clearly got the message.

After a quiet first half — just three shots, steady sonning at the hands of DeRozan, a -10 mark in 14 minutes of floor time — Lee woke up with a charge in the third. He attacked the Raptors defense early and often to the tune of 11 points, four rebounds (two on the offensive glass), two assists and two steals in 10 third-quarter minutes, teaming with Hardaway (12 of his career-high 38 points in the third) to blow the Raptors’ doors off and turn the game around.

The good news: the halftime skull session snapped Lee and the Knicks out of their funk and propelled them to 10-7, good for fifth place in the East. The bad news: the coach found that swearing at his starting shooting guard produced the desired effect.

Sorry in advance for the steady stream of extremely foul language that’s about to be dropped on your noggin, Courtney Lee. It might not always be pleasant. (Man, who’d have thought Jeff Hornacek would have so many vulgar ideas about what you could/should do with Thanksgiving leftovers?) But when you’ve just turned in the best quarter in franchise history and find yourself in a surprisingly good place, you don’t fork with the shirt that’s working.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!