On a list of unexpected developments at Madison Square Garden on a January Sunday, it would seem to be tough to top St. John's routing Duke as if the Red Storm were the defending national champions.
Hearing a crowd chanting "Moz-Gov, Moz-Gov" to close out a 124-108 Knicks win over the Pistons just might do it however. The rookie center, who went from the starting lineup to the darkest corners of the Knicks bench, got the call on Sunday night and made Mike D'Antoni and his staff look like the greatest teachers in basketball history because practice has made a world of difference for Mozgov.
Mozgov missed his first four shots, but then went on the kind of run that made you keep pinching yourself to make sure that you hadn't actually shrunk down in size and been implanted in the big Russian's cerbral cortex. That's how much of a dream night that it was for Mozgov. He scored 23 points on a variety of offensive moves, he grabbed 14 rebounds and generally played with a sense of direction that was miles away from the lost player that he was when he was last part of the rotation. Even when he screwed up things worked out, as evidenced by a pair of botched easy buckets that Amar'e Stoudemire turned into easy dunks.
As good as all of that was, the best part of the whole thing was the way Mozgov's presence allowed Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari to settle into their ideal roles. Stoudemire, looking really comfortable as the power forward, scored 33 points and avoided the pounding that he usually takes in the interior. Gallinari, explosive again in the fourth quarter, drove by, shot over and drew fouls from smaller forwards en route to 29 points.
About the only player who can't be happy about the development is Wilson Chandler, whose relevancy to this team drops on a nightly basis. He didn't play down the stretch against the Heat, no one thought his absence hurt the team in the Atlanta loss and that sore calf might as well keep him out if it means more Mozgov going forward.
Does Sunday night's explosion mean that we're going to have to employ a Russian translator for postgame pressers, though? It might not. The Knicks are hiring Mark Warkentien, the former Nuggets general manager, as a consultant and it doesn't take a degree in connecting the dots to see this impacting the Carmelo Anthony hunt, especially since he just hired CAA, Anthony's agents, to represent him. Warkentien has already been talking with Donnie Walsh, which means it could be possible that showcasing a young, seven-footer just might be in the team's best interests going forward.
There are other explanations. The injury to Chandler and Shawne Williams's suspension left the team awfully short, as evidenced by an Anthony Randolph sighting. Randolph was very active on the glass, which could mean, depth issues or not, that D'Antoni has finally realized it makes sense to try for rebounds. There's also the fact that the Pistons are terrible, something that can't be totally discounted when waxing rhapsodic about the arrival of Mozgov.
The feeling here is that , like the great stories of Russian literature, it will take some time before the true Mozgov plot reveals itself. Whatever winds up happening, we'll always have Sunday night.