On Sunday night, Evan Fournier arrived at Madison Square Garden thinking it was going to be a long night again riding the Knicks bench.
He had no clue that he would have his best game of the season, let alone play.
“During the anthem. I’m serious,” Fournier told reporters when he knew he was playing his only ninth game since he was removed from the rotation in the middle of November.
“I was [in the locker room], I was actually changing to my jersey and RJ came back,” Fournier said, “he was not feeling well, so that’s how I knew [I would be playing].”
Barrett went through the warmups but was a late scratch due to a non-COVID illness moments after the Knicks announced he was part of the starting five.
New York coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t talk to Fournier. Instead, he told Immanuel Quickley he’s starting in place of Barrett.
“[Fournier] pretty much knows he’s the next man in if it’s a wing,” Thibodeau said after Fournier helped the New York Knicks to a 21-point comeback win against the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers. “We have a lot of confidence in all the guys we have on the team. So, whoever’s in there, just get the job done.”
Fournier has quickly become an afterthought after losing his starting job. Buried on the bench, Fournier’s name has been tossed around in trade rumors.
Whether starting, playing off the bench, or out of the rotation, he remained professional.
“I love Evan’s demeanor,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got a great attitude, great approach, very professional. So, I see the work he puts in each day he stays ready, and when he’s called upon, he plays well.”
Play well he did.
Against a high-powered 76ers team that had won their last eight road games, Fournier went on to get the job done, playing his best game of a frustrating season on Sunday night, even on short notice.
Fournier scored a season-high 17 points, behind a 5-for-8 shooting from downtown as he emerged the unlikely hero of the Knicks’ largest comeback win of the season.
Fournier had eight points during the Knicks’ second-quarter run to get back into the game after digging a 21-point hole in the opening period.
Then he saved his best for last, hitting three more 3s in the final quarter and setting up Miles McBride’s key three-pointer that deflated the 76ers’ spirits for a 98-90 Knicks lead with 3:22 left.
“To be honest, it felt good to have an impact on winning,” Fournier said. Making shots is always cool, but having an impact on winning is even better.”
Fournier fouled out with 1:39 left. But his inspiring performance on both ends of the floor that resulted in plus-28 in the plus-minus column, next only to McBride’s plus-34 didn’t go unnoticed.
The Knicks crowd lauded his effort with a great ovation.
“That was fun, man! That’s why I love New York,” Fournier said. “They talk s–t, but they give you love as well.”
His professionalism may be his biggest trait, but next to it is he’s self-awareness.
So when asked if Sunday night’s performance was his ticket back to the rotation, his response was telling of his great character.
“No, I don’t think so. I think [Thibodeau] is set on his nine-man rotation,” Fournier said. “You know, it was like a fun one-night stand. And we’ll see, throughout the course of a season, there’s always [opportunity], sometimes a guy gets an injury, so I’m sure I’ll have another chance to play.”
But whether that next chance will still be with the Knicks will be known on or before Thursday’s trade deadline.
Fournier was reportedly discussed as part of the Knicks package, along with Obi Toppin, that will go to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Fournier said Sunday night’s performance wasn’t a showcase to other teams. It’s more for himself and his teammates who are buried on the bench like him.
“I don’t care what other people think,” Fournier said. “It feels good for me. It feels good to see my teammates, Cam [Reddish] and Svi [Mykhailiuk] cheer for me because we’re going through the same stuff. So, that’s the reason why it feels good. I mean guys, I’ve been playing for 11 years, if you don’t know what I’m capable of doing, then I don’t know what to say.”
There are still a handful of teams who can use his shotmaking and veteran leadership. But he isn’t tracking where he might end up next. He’s just living in the moment.
And right now, he’s still in New York, living in his dream city, and will go through his routine until Thursday’s trade deadline.
“I’m going to take my nap. When I wake up from my nap,” Fournier said, “if I’m out, I’m out. It is what it is.”
If Sunday night was his last game as a Knick, Fournier couldn’t have written a better ending.
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