If the Dallas Mavericks were in Friday night need of an excuse in the form of distractions, Madison Square Garden was almost as packed with those as it is with history.
There was the increasing opponent defensive laser focus on controlling Luka Doncic. There was the "KP Sucks!'' homecoming of ex-New Yorker Kristaps Porzingis. There was the fact that as coach Rick Carlisle put in in the ramp-up to tipoff, "It's Gotham.''
Oh, and there was the fact that Carlisle wouldn't be there to be a part of what would've been his 1,500 NBA game as a head coach.
The Mavs, though, guided by assistant coach Jamahl Mosley (with his first-ever head-coaching win) - oh, and of course by All-Everything Luka - pulled away late to register a 99-86 victory.
Carlisle, Mosley said, texted him to say, "You're ready for this, you're prepared for this,'' and that the message "was a place of comfort for me to be able to help lead these guys."
It wasn't always pretty for Doncic and company, especially early on. Luka air-balled a free throw ...
And all one can do, sometimes, is laugh.
But the Mavs engineered a pivotal turnaround in the second quarter, overcoming a 13-point deficit by ending the half on an 18-2 run over the last 5:31.
"It was just kind of a ratty game to start and our guys started to buy in to saying, 'They're trying to grind the game down and we have to get stops and get out and run,''' Mosley said. "When the guys bought into that in the huddle, that was the changing point in the game."
That spurt - which gave Dallas a 49-46 halftime lead over the Knicks - featured a turnover-free run. And while the Mavs didn't exactly explode on the scoreboard in their move to 26-21 (and their continuing efforts to own seventh in the West and to climb from there), the work, and the numbers, of helpers like Jalen Brunson was critical.
We choose Brunson for a reason: He played 25 minutes, including some late, scored 15 points (joining a cluster of Mavs in that area, including Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr., each with 14), helped Dallas survive on the boards as one of five guys with at least seven rebounds, and totaled five assists, second only to Luka's seven.
Doncic got his - 26 points, eight rebounds and the seven assists. (And a deep bank shot. And an angry dunk.) And KP did, too, eventually, contributing eight rebounds to go with the 14 points.
"The reaction,'' KP said of the "KP Sucks!'' chants from the 2,000 in attendance, "was what I expected.''
But to out-rebound New York (47-43), to hold them to 36 percent shooting, and for Brunson's plus-minus (+34!) to be so off the charts?
In total, to win on defense, rather than on offense?
"Sometimes,'' Doncic said, "you have to win ugly.''
Well, this was going to have to be about focusing on the little things ... overcoming the attacking of Luka (which didn't work), ignoring the boos that rained down on Porzingis (which probably did have some negative impact) and carrying on without a milestone-making coach who is planning to travel with the team to its Saturday date at Washington. ... where maybe the distractions will be tamed down again.