MEMPHIS – David Fizdale said he squashed his beef with Marc Gasol and then watched his team squash the Grizzlies.
Buoyed by a marvelous dunk by Emmanuel Mudiay, the streaking Knicks won their third straight, 103-98, beating Memphis almost exactly a year after the organization fired Fizdale amid his feud with Gasol.
The locals didn’t seem to care much about Fizdale’s first return to FedEx Forum, with only about half the arena filled on Sunday. But the Knicks (7-14) put on a show for their coach.
The highlight was Mudiay’s one-handed soaring jam over Memphis’ Garrett Temple, an and-1 that gave the Knicks a 97-93 advantage with 1:35 remaining. It arrived in transition off a steal from Trey Burke.
Until that point, it looked like the Knicks might suffer another late collapse. They were up by nine early in the fourth quarter and then trailed the Grizzlies (12-7) with two minutes left.
But just like the previous two games – against the Celtics and Pelicans – the Knicks survived a late onslaught. Maybe they’ve turned a corner.
Gasol had a decent night with 27 points and eight rebounds, but he was also outplayed in stretches by Knicks center Enes Kanter (21 points, 26 rebounds). Mudiay added 17 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. dropped a team-high 22 points on 6-for-16 shooting.
The Knicks trailed for most of the evening, playing listless for 2 ½ quarters. Then they came alive with a 23-3 run in just six minutes of the third quarter, turning a 13-point deficit into a seven-point advantage heading into the final frame.
Before the game, Fizdale declared the story of his fallout with Gasol as dead, saying he and the center had a “fantastic conversation.”
Fizdale then gushed about the Grizzlies star.
“It was two men that evolved. And that’s pretty cool to see a moment in your life individually as a man where your life changed and grew,” Fizdale said. “And you got better because of something. And somebody made you better. And I credit him. He made me a better coach, he made me a better person. And I was lucky to be his coach.”
Fizdale was fired a year ago by the Grizzlies, just 19 games into his second season. There were a few reasons, but none more pressing than his toxic relationship with Gasol. Months later, they cleared the air over the phone. It was around the same time that Gasol, working for a humanitarian organization, helped rescue a drowning migrant off the Libyan coast.
“He pulled a migrant out of the ocean this summer. That’s way more important than a basketball beef,” Fizdale said. “He and I both know it and we were like, man, we’re going to be seeing each other too much, our wives love each other. He has a beautiful family and I think it’s pretty cool that at a time that we all live in when people are so mad at each other and here we are two guys and we squashed it and we’re cool.”
Gasol wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the conversation. Still, the Spaniard found Fizdale after the game and hugged his former coach.
“We let each other know how we felt and we move on,” Gasol said.
Although neither Gasol nor Fizdale detailed the fallout, part of it was about the coach disrespecting the center’s international achievements, sources told the Daily News. There was also a blowout in the locker room in Fizdale’s first season, a source said.