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Knicks 96, Timberwolves 88: “Thibs is the new Mr. Magoo”

New York’s first winning streak since October.

New York Knicks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

See that picture above? Obi reaching for the basketball? Reminds me of this.

If the Biblical creation account is to be believed, God creating the universe was a potluck. Not your everyday potluck, mind you. This one ran for six days and each featured the birth of some fundamental aspect of existence. The New York Knicks did not create life Tuesday in Minnesota.

They won a basketball game, 96-88, a fine feat in its own right, especially for a team now on its first winning streak since before Halloween. At times the two teams looked like they were creating basketball in real time, 10 lowercase-g gods smashing atoms, bricking free throws and clanging 3s and turning the ball over. If beauty moves you, this game did not. But with the seven teams closest to New York in the Eastern standings all on losing streaks, this little run has already moved Thibs’ kids to a better neighborhood.

The Knicks won a dangerous game, the kind teams that miss playoffs and play-ins lose. Despite the Wolves missing Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards, they rallied from a double-digit deficit one night eariler to beat Boston. They’re easy to overlook, especially now. It’s an up-and-down season. Omicron’s running wild. It’s the holidays. This year’s Knicks haven’t shown us anything since they were 5-1 and then took their first punch. They stumbled around for nearly two months, one sputter after another. Following the Christmas win over Atlanta by winning this game, being in command so much of the night — that shows something.

As above, so below: the Knicks’ effort was a pot luck. In the early going the ball movement twizzled and spun like sycamore seeds. The chief beneficiary of all that intelligent design was Evan Fournier, who reached double-figures in the first quarter.

The Knicks had a lot of success running pick-and-roll, which led the Wolves to counter with a zone. For a while the Knicks handled the zone well, too, thanks in part to Quentin Grimes hitting a triplet of triples and Obi Toppin showing the full repertoire: three assists along with the usual highlight finish. The Knicks went up 17, then couldn’t buy a bucket the rest of the half; Minnesota closed on a 19-5 run to make it a three-point game at the break.

What’s your potluck blockbuster? Good mac and cheese is tough to beat. Not only ‘cuz it’s so good itself, but because as food compounds go it’s basically a blob of goodness. You can put pretty much anything in mac and cheese, eat it, and love it. It embetters the world around it.

Mitchell Robinson is the Knicks’ mac and cheese. He was typically devastating in his efficiency around the rim, grabbed 18 rebounds in only 32 minutes and led a defensive effort that saw the Knicks give up fewer than 90 points for only the third time this year. Mitch’s play on both ends freed up his teammates to be more aggressive: normally, a drive to the hoop needs to end in a made basket to be successful; when Mitch is MITCH!, just getting a shot up is two points, because he’s gonna flush it. He was the best player on the floor.

Even the best player on the floor needs help. In the third that took the form of Kemba Walker draining a pair of 3s late to push the lead back to double-digits. In the fourth Minnesota kept pushing, but every time they did RJ Barrett, troubled by fouls and scoreless until the final minutes, pushed back.

The reserves shot 52% from the field to the starters’ 37%, and for the first time in 25 days five Knick subs played 10+ minutes. There’ve been games recently with as few as two seeing those minutes. Lastly, a dash of seasoning dresses up almost any dish. They don’t come more seasoned than Taj Gibson.

I don’t know how much time God’s creation has left, or Tom Thibodeau’s. I’m in a mood to enjoy a Knicks win. That’s it. Things are a bit brighter than they’ve been in a while — Immanuel Quickley played for the first time since going on COVID leave. Miles McBride is cleared to play. After a ton of different starting lineups, the Knicks had the same five tonight they did on opening night. The Wolves had only one, Jaden McDaniels. The Knicks are getting healthier and that’s coincided with some wins, and that’s causing my hopes to rise a bit, and I’m grateful for that, and I want some more.

Notes

  • Mitch, Obi, Taj and Alec Burks combined to make 15 of 19 shots (79%). The rest of the Knicks were 22 of 71 (31%).
  • How much would you give Mitch if he played like this 60-70 times a year?
  • Mitch has traded lobs for offensive putbacks. He also wore tape on his wrist after hurting it on a dunk, which for this Patrick Ewing fan is hot as hell. It makes Robinson look longer, too. I’m very in favor of Mitch going taped wrists full-time.
  • I can’t prove this — yet — but I swear every time Obi fakes a dribble hand-off and drives, something good happens.
  • Rod Strickland was always the best guard I ever seen finish at the rim. Kyrie Irving is there now, too. Rod is still #1 among Knicks. We often talk guards when we talk great finishers around the rim, but Obi is climbing the list. His lay-up and glasswork game are works of beauty. Stacy Patton and I started hosting a Knicks pod on Bleav and he’s talked about Toppin’s incredible body control, how often he drives and goes up for what looks like a sure charge, yet not only avoids the foul but finishes the move.
  • Greg Monroe back in the NBA. Remember when people were jumping out of buildings after the Knicks didn’t land Monroe in free agency? That takes me back.
  • Watching Taj guarding Monroe down on the block...I love that kinda thing, where you realize this is pro’ly the last time you’ll see something you once saw so much you took it for granted.
  • Kemba Walker was holding the ball as the final seconds ticked off when Patrick Beverley dove in and forced a jump ball with one second left. Many of the players on both teams were laughing; Kemba didn’t even jump. Later Bev played free throw defense, jumping suddenly across the lane as some Knick was about to release his shot. I enjoy Beverley.
  • Jake Layman scored nine for the Timberwolves. I mention this only because this is apparently his sixth year in the NBA and I swear I have never seen or heard of this dude.
  • In addition to getting rid of the take foul, could the NBA please move the benches back a few feet from the sideline? I hate seeing people on the bench yelling at someone shooting in front of them. There’s no way the league can like how that looks. Does it serve or advance the game in any way?
  • Tonight in OAKAAKUYOAK alums around the league: the Milwaukee/Orlando game featured five former Knicks, with Bobby Portis, Wesley Matthews and Thanasis Antetokounmpo coming out on top over Robin Lopez and Iggy Brazdeikis.
  • Mike Breen tried putting a smiley face on COVID with how great it is seeing all these hardships call-ups getting a chance to play, and I get it. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Except when you’re on an amusement park ride that everyone’s slowly realized is off the rails, and it’s picking up speed and headed for a sharp curve that some of you aren’t going to survive. In that instance, lighting a candle is pointless. Better to curse. At least you’ll have company.

Quoth the Skycap: “Thibs is the new Mr. Magoo.” I love the music of that. Next game is tonight, a 7:00 tip in Detroit. Hope to see you all next year.