For the average New York sports fan, it was the night of the Yankees-Red Sox Wild Card Game. For the crazed Knicks fan, it was an even more important night: the preseason opener. While preseason doesn’t mean much of anything, it is hard not to let your hopes or fears be vindicated by the first moments of action.
In the mere first moments, the doubt settled in. Down 4-0, Randle air-balled an open corner three. Perhaps last year was a fluke after all?
From then on, it was unbridled optimism—every single dream about how improved this team will be, all coming to fruition. The Knicks looked like they should have—a team returning almost entirely in full, plus two new key additions who should fit like a glove.
Fresh face Kemba Walker came back down the floor to make his first basket as a Knick, and his smile to celebrate in his hometown Garden was infectious.
A few moments later, Walker gave the Knicks another moment that had been missing from the starting point position, finding RJ Barrett for a smooth transition three. A step-back jumper from Walker and a leaning three pointer from other new addition Evan Fournier had the Knicks up 12-6. After a jumper from Randle, even veteran Taj Gibson got in on the three point barrage with a smooth corner three as if he’d done it countless times before.
The timeless Gibson started in place of Nerlens Noel, who rested, and Mitchell Robinson, still making his way back from injury, and finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and a game-high +22 in just 21 minutes.
After a savvy and-one floater from Fournier followed by a three point foul, the Knicks had a 25-16 advantage.
With the depletion of the centers, undrafted Jericho Sims came in and continued his great play from Summer League, immediately finishing an alley-oop layup to put the Knicks up 27-16.
Sims had some rookie moments, finding himself out of position on defense, but he also found himself in the right place for three offensive rebounds and lobs to get him to 8 points, six total rebounds, and two assists in 24 minutes
The bench picked up where the starters left off, with beautiful passing and scores from veterans Rose and Burks and second-year players Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley giving the Knicks a 36-26 lead at the end of the quarter.
In the second, Quickley continued to find a more confident Toppin, who knocked down a midrange jumper and fast-break slam.
The starters continued to stride, each scoring double digits in their first game alongside each other, led by 20 points from Randle and 17 from RJ.
The half ended with familiar super-heroism by Julius Randle, knocking down a contested jumper to give the Knicks a 67-55 lead at the break, delighting the electric preseason crowd.
Their outstanding performance continued through the second half, thanks to Thibodeau’s typical stifling defensive scheme, holding the Pacers to just 49 points on 17-41 shooting.
The starters dominated most of the third quarter, continuing to score at will and develop chemistry. A no-look dime from Walker to Sims for a slam made it an 84-59 ball-game with a little under 7 minutes to go in the quarter.
At the end of the third, the Knicks found themselves up 101-81, a fine score for an end result, let alone a game with a quarter to spare.
With the game out of reach, the fourth quarter belonged to the youth. Immanuel Quickley had six points and four assists, getting him up to 10 points, six rebounds, and seven assists for the game despite shooting just 4-10 from the field. Toppin similarly shot just 4-10, but demonstrated a beautiful self-created spin move for a layup that he would not have dreamed of taking last season.
To cap the game off, the rookies in Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes got to check in, much to the delight of an MSG crowd who’d been chanting for “Deuce.” But it was the perpetually young Kevin Knox who stole the show with four points off cuts to the hoop in just four minutes.
GREAT dish from IQ to Knox for the slam— KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) October 6, 2021
Kemba looking on like a proud father pic.twitter.com/UHpA84XOS8
An assist from Quickley to Aamir Simms signaled the end a beautiful game played without two of their coveted centers.
It is just preseason, but it does not mean it was not a joy to watch that performance. As P&T’er Grin and Barrett noted, it looks like the Knicks have a roster deep in two-way hoopers.