Those classic matchups between the Knicks and Pacers in the 90s were brutal. Defenses were physical. Points were limited. It was not a pretty sight. And when the two franchises linked up for a matchup on Monday, it felt just like old times.
Neither team cracked 100 points. The Knicks shot 43.0 percent from the field. Indiana was at 37.2 percent. The two teams combined to shoot 19-of-71 from beyond the arc.
“It’s kind of like 90s style basketball,” Taj Gibson said after the game. “You just have to go out there and fight. It’s kind of like a playoff game the way we were playing tonight. That’s the Pacers. We play them many times throughout the year, and whenever you play them it’s never an easy game.”
Nobody could buy a bucket, but both teams desperately needed one of they were to walk out of Madison Square Garden with a victory. Julius Randle was 5-of-15. RJ Barrett was 4-of-13. Kemba Walker scored 8 early points in the first but struggled for the remainder of the game.
That kind of output (or lack thereof) felt like it would doom the Knicks. Except, it didn’t, because in a game that felt like a third consecutive loss for New York was inevitable, Immanuel Quickley stepped up to save the day in the 94-82 victory.
IQ came off the bench to score a team-high tying 16 points in just 23 minutes of action. He was a perfect 4-of-4 beyond the arc. Perhaps the most telling number of his big night? Quickley, who was only averaged 16.5 minutes a night heading into this game, played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Just the way the game unfolds,” Tom Thibodeau said. “(The bench) had a goom rhythm going. They get the lead. So that’s how we’ll approach it.”
Quickley hasn’t gotten off to the best start to begin his sophomore season. He’s playing less. He’s not scoring as much. Most alarmingly, his 3-point stroke seems to have abandoned him. He shot 38.9 percent from three last season. Heading into Monday’s game, that number was below 33 percent.
Maybe he’s been experiencing a sophomore slump. Maybe he’s struggled to find his place within an incredibly deep rotation of players. Whatever the reason, Quickley remained positive through it all, so sure he’d find his way out of the hole he’d dug himself into.
“I don’t really look at it as a slow start, I look it as the ball just wasn’t going in and it’s eventually gonna go in,” he said after the win over the Pacers. “If you just stick with it, you keep working, doing all the things you’re supposed to and keep my faith first, everything’s gonna fall into place.”
That faith came through against Indiana. Despite his previous struggles, Quickley had no problem launching from well beyond the arc. You kind of question the brashness of a youngster who probably should be playing with more poise and control given his struggles. Yet at the same time, you also can’t help but marvel at the confidence that propels IQ to take and make shots like the one below.
That internal belief was much-needed in the fourth quarter where Quickley scored half of his 16 points and nearly as many as the entire Pacers team (10).
Two of his four 3-point makes came during the final frame as well. The first triple knotted up a game the Knicks had previously trailed by as many as 12. The last one came with just over five minutes remaining and gave New York a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
“He has the demeanor of a 10-year vet,” Gibson said of Quickley. “He loves to practice, you have to kick him out the gym... We trust him and we look forward to him making those big-time shots. We were kind of frustrated when he doesn’t [shoot threes]. That’s how much we believe in him.”
It’s a joy to watch Quickley at his best. His youthful smile. The way he skips down the court with the ball in his hands, braids bopping up and down. The way he engages the crowd after every big play. Still skipping. Still smiling wide as ever.
That those emotions and the stellar play that prompted them helped the Knicks avoid falling to .500 makes those cheery moments even better.