Evan Fournier was one of the unlikely heroes of the New York Knicks rally from 25 points down to beat the Boston Celtics by scoring a career-best 41 points. and hitting 10 3-pointers.
Did Fournier put up those gaudy numbers — and do it two other times to the Celtics — because of some sort of grudge that he has against a Boston franchise that chose not to retain him this past summer? Not likely.
More likely, the source is the pride and toughness that Fournier carries inside of himself and competitiveness taught to him long ago by parents who were former world-class Judo champions.
It’s no coincidence that some of Fournier’s best performances have come on the heels of his worst nights. He’s a driven competitor like that, he’s especially hard on himself, and he usually doesn’t stay down long when he has off nights.
New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier’s toughness was taught to him by parents who were once world-class Judo fighters
In 2016, when Evan Fournier was a member of the Orlando Magic, he took an elbow just under his left eye that caused a cut that required nine stitches to close. Even with his eye discolored and rapidly swelling, Fournier pushed trainers to let him go back into the game, and he played well.
Asked afterward why he fought o go back in the game, Fournier candidly said, “Because my parents would have kicked my ass if sat out a game with a black eye!”
Francois and Meriem Fournier were once world-class Judo fighters who had Olympic aspirations. While living in suburban Paris, they taught their son how to be mentally tough and how to fight when times get tough, metaphorically speaking. And they didn’t really give him a choice in the matter.
“It’s pretty embarrassing when your mom can kick your ass,” Fournier remarked.
Here’s another story about Fournier and his parents’ expectations of him for more perspective. In 2015, the Magic were to play just hours after terrorists set off chaos in Paris with attacks that resulted in 130 deaths and 350 injuries. Because of the jammed phone traffic in Paris, Fournier could not reach his parents and friends for several hours. Still, there was a game to play, and the guard didn’t dare sit it out.
He scored 13 points in the first half and sprinted off the floor to check his phone at halftime. Fortunately, his parents and friends were safe, and Fournier finished the game that night with 21 points. His parents, of course, were happy that he ignored the distractions and did his job.
“When the work ethic that you have comes from both parents who are … shoot, they’re more competitive than I am,’’ said Fournier, said with a chuckle. “Basically, I owe my parents for everything.”
Fournier’s first season with the New York Knicks has been rocky, but hopes persist he will find more consistency
One reason Evan Fournier ended up with the Knicks was the glowing scouting report that New York coach Tom Thibodeau got from close friend Steve Clifford — Fournier’s coach in Orlando for five seasons.
Thibodeau admitted as much early this season: “He doesn’t get rattled, he’s not afraid of big moments, and he’s tough.”
Fournier has needed tough skin in New York because of his uneven play, causing some to wonder if he was already a $73 million bust. Inconsistent while making just 40.3% of his shots with near career-low assist numbers, his defense has also been lacking.
However, the good thing has been Fournier’s ability to bounce back from poor performances. When he fell flat against Golden State (two points), he came back two nights later with 23 points in Houston. When he missed seven of eight shots and scored just three points last week in Oklahoma City, he responded a couple of nights later with 20 points and four 3-pointers in Toronto.
Considering Fournier’s responses this season after poor performances, the Boston Celtics should have been on high alert when Fournier went scoreless two nights earlier in Indiana.
Evan Fournier’s repeated demolition of Boston puts him on an impressive list
When Evan Fournier poured in 41 points, it gave the New York Knicks guard three performances of at least 30 points this season against the Celtics — the team he spent 16 games with late last season. The only players in NBA history to score at least 30 points in their first three games against a former team are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Allen Iverson, Kevin Durant … and Fournier, according to ESPN Stats and Research.
The performance reminded some of “FIBA Fournier,” the nickname he was given after starring for France in international competitions in recent years.
Oddly, Fournier can be the first in league history to pump in at least 30 points against a former team in his first four games when the Knicks and Celtics square off again on the weekend. Fournier said he is more motivated by a desire to be great than some grudge against Boston.
“Maybe there’s a little bit of extra motivation, but it’s not something I do on purpose,” he said in his postgame news conference. “Like, I don’t wake up thinking, ‘OK, it’s the Celtics, and I need to play better.’ It’s just natural, I guess.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise attributed.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com