“Kem-ba, Walk-er,” they chanted.
“Kem-ba, Walk-er,” the sold-out Garden crowd roared.
“Kem-ba, Walk-er” they screamed as they rose out of their seats.
The Bronx native, serenaded with a standing ovation after completing a triple-double, couldn’t hide that trademark smile of his at that point.
This was one Christmas he probably won’t forget.
Walker, the offseason acquisition who was benched after a shaky start and regained his spot only after a COVID-19 outbreak, led the Knicks to a wire-to-wire 101-87 victory over the Hawks after becoming the franchise’s first player — and seventh in NBA history — to record a triple-double on Christmas Day.
With one of their better all-around performances of the season, the Knicks won for the second time in three games before embarking on a four-game road trip that starts Tuesday against the Timberwolves. They took advantage of the Hawks’ many absences due to the virus, in particular star point guard Trae Young, who tormented the Knicks and their fans in the playoffs a year ago.
This time, the Knicks had the best point guard between the two teams. Walker, two days removed from his 44-point outburst in a loss to the Wizards, played the role of orchestrator perfectly. He created opportunities for his teammates and extended possessions with hustle plays.
There was so much to like from this effort, even if it was against an undermanned opponent. From Walker (10 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, plus-19 rating) adeptly running the team to the strong bench performances from young reserves Obi Toppin and Quentin Grimes, to Julius Randle’s dominant double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds, the Knicks produced the kind of lopsided victory that has been few and far between this year. They made 20 3-pointers and held the Hawks to 37.9 percent shooting from the field. Toppin put an exclamation point on the joyous afternoon, throwing down a between-the-legs dunk in transition.
Walker jump-started a 16-4 run that gave the Knicks an 18-point lead late in the third quarter. His two free throws ended a 3:50 scoring drought and he set up consecutive 3-pointers from Randle. Grimes added two more triples as the Knicks began to run away from the Hawks. The lead ballooned to 21 early in the fourth quarter on another Grimes 3, and soon the benches would empty.
If Tom Thibodeau had a script for the start of the game, this was it. The Knicks hit their first seven shots. They were crisp. They defended well, came out hot from deep and moved the ball. It was 19-3 just 4:12 after the opening tip-off.
Evan Fournier ensured they held a double-digit edge at the break, scoring the Knicks’ final 10 points of the second quarter to answer a Cam Reddish-fueled Hawks run. Randle had been carrying the Knicks up to that point, scoring 14 points and hitting three of their 12 first-half 3-pointers.
Walker wasn’t as explosive as he was in against the Wizards on Thursday, but he was active and created offense, notching eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists. And the Knicks received quality production off the bench from Toppin and Grimes, who combined for 15 points in the first two quarters.