Kenyon Martin steps up for injury-ravaged Knicks

USA TODAY Sports

With the Knicks' frontcourt dealing with injuries, they've been forced to count on Kenyon Martin. He's delivering.

TORONTO -- Kenyon Martin isn't impressed with himself. Never mind the 19 points on Friday, the most he's scored in an NBA game since February 2010. Never mind the 11 rebounds and 36 minutes, his most since April 2011. Never mind that he's made 18 of his 22 shots starting at center over the last three games, filling in admirably for reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler on both ends for the New York Knicks.

"I just play this way every night," he says simply after a 99-94 win over the Toronto Raptors. "I just got some opportunities on the offensive end, I got a couple of easy ones. ... It went in my favor tonight."

Martin moved like someone much younger than his 35 years on Friday. He leapt to reject a hook shot from 20-year-old Raptors 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas in the opening minutes. He raced down court in transition to put back a Raymond Felton miss with a two-handed dunk. He stole an errant pass and went coast to coast for another slam. None of it looked unnatural.

The man Toronto head coach Dwane Casey called "old man strong" when praising him pregame made his first nine field goal attempts, a jump hook rimming out in the final minutes to spoil his perfect night.

"He stepped up big time," New York head coach Mike Woodson said. "He did a little bit of everything for us tonight."

A month prior, the Knicks were in the same locker room at the Air Canada Centre. Martin, a free agent up until that point, had just been signed to a 10-day contract to join a team with a few familiar faces. In Denver, he'd played six and a half years with Carmelo Anthony, five with J.R. Smith and four with Marcus Camby. He teamed with Jason Kidd for four seasons to start his career in New Jersey, sharing two trips to the Finals.

"Just by knowing him I know he's hungry," Camby said at the time. "Anytime you want to go into a battle, that's one guy you would like to have on your side. He's that tenacious."

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Woodson said then that Martin's defense, rebounding and experience could help, but qualified it with, "if he's got anything left in his tank." It appears now the tank isn't empty. Woodson's team is rather fortunate that's the case.

Martin arrived to play in place of reserves Camby and Rasheed Wallace, both dealing with foot injuries. Since then Chandler strained his neck, Amar'e Stoudemire had surgery on his right knee and Kurt Thomas fractured his right foot. Suddenly short on size, New York is much more than happy to have him on its side.

"Oh, man," Anthony said when asked about Martin's importance. "I mean, for him to come on and take the role of Tyson being out and Amar'e being out and just fill that void right now, you can see he's getting his legs back underneath of him. He's getting in shape. He means a lot to this team right now and we need him coming down the stretch."

"If we didn't have him, we would be in trouble right now." -Jason Kidd

"If we didn't have him, we would be in trouble right now," said Kidd.

Martin's averages of 7.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks don't jump off the page but he's doing it in 22.7 minutes per game. Per-minute, he's producing about as much as he did in his final few seasons in Denver. Through 10 games he's shooting 62.5 percent from the field.

"Somebody was going to sign him for a playoff run and it was going to probably be a pretty good team," said Woodson. "I'm just glad we were able to jump on board and get it done because who knows where we would have been if he wasn't here. It's good to have him."

While Woodson sees Martin signing somewhere as a sure thing, Martin doesn't look at it like that. Back in November, he told Yahoo! Sports that he would join any team that wanted him.

"I wasn't sure of anything," Martin said. "Nothing at all. It's just a blessing and an honor to be here."

A month ago no one would have predicted New York would count on him like this but his performance hasn't shocked those who shared locker rooms with him before. For Smith, Martin's performance on Friday was the same thing he was used to seeing.

"He's just getting more touches," Smith said. "We got some guys out, he played unbelievable. Made his jump shot, made some free throws, getting wide open. He sets really good screens, so whenever he sets screens he's the majority of time going to be open and we found him early."

"Nothing surprised me," said Anthony. "I know how Kenyon can play, I know what he's capable of doing. Especially on this team, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for him right now with guys being out to showcase that. He's been out the league for a minute and he's coming back, trying to prove himself and what better way to do it ... than stepping up to the challenge right now?"

Ideally Woodson will not have to play the 35-year-old for 36 minutes many more times. As the playoffs approach and the roster gets healthier, Martin will be asked to provide a boost from the bench. For now, though, he's making the most of the situation.

"I just tried to stay ready," said Martin. "It's a blessing to be back playing ... An opportunity came for me to come out and play and it's unfortunate it's because of injury but I'll take it."

This kind of impact from a midseason signing? The Knicks will take that, too.

Photo by USA Today Sports.

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