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Knicks 107, Bulls 103: “Payton playing like he don’t want to lose his starting PG spot”

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The start of a new win streak?

New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls
Elf may not have silenced the haters, but he certainly played well Wednesday night.
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Did you know the phrase “win one for the Gipper” refers to a college football player named George Gipp who was born in 1895, died of pneumonia at just 25-years-old and was later portrayed in film by Ronald Reagan? And the definitive origin of the infamous sentence is disputed?

Origins of the expression aside, the Knicks won one for the Gipper tonight. Their Gipper happens to be Tom Thibodeau, who used to coach the Bulls and was understandably upset when the Knicks fell to Chicago, 110-102, in the first of a two-game set earlier in the week. With Wednesday’s victory, Thibs improved to 6-2 as a head coach when playing his former team, while the Knicks avoided a three-game losing streak.

Despite leading for the entirety of the evening, New York came very close to blowing it at the end. But even though Immanuel Quickley played like an earthling instead of an otherworldly being, the Knicks held on, 107-103.

Wednesday’s game was played amid a rising tide of Knicks fans calling for Elfrid Payton to be benched in favor of IQ. Some are even speculating that Elf is defending himself through an alleged burner account. Payton may or may not be anonymously defending himself online, but there’s no doubt he protected his starting role on Wednesday, to the dismay of many.

In fact, he scored the first points of the game for the Knicks on a putback off an offensive rebound, then immediately forced a turnover which ultimately resulted in a lovely lefty layup from RJ Barrett.

The scoring was pretty evenly distributed amongst the Knickerbockers in the opening period, although it was Elf who stole the show, especially considering IQ is rapidly becoming one of the best players on the team. Payton posted 10 points (5-7 shooting) and 7 rebounds in the first quarter, easily driving by his defender at will and niftily finishing numerous layups.

Of course, as previously noted, the scoring was pretty evenly distributed. Randle had 11 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists; Barrett bagged 6 points; Mitchell Robinson totaled 4 points and 3 boards.

Among the main areas in which the Knicks had an advantage in the quarter was rebounding, and in particular, offensive rebounding. New York outrebounded Chicago 17 to 8 in the first, with 6 offensive rebounds to 1 for the Bulls. Call Mitch Windex, because he was cleaning the glass.

Heading into the second, the Knicks were up 34-17. And Quickley hadn’t even played yet! IQ started the second quarter alongside Austin Rivers, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin and Nerlens Noel, and the point god immediately sank a floater.

Then Toppin splashed back to back shots, including a three off a kick out from a Burks drive. It felt like the Knicks could maintain a double digit lead for the whole night if they really wanted to.

Zach LaVine showed up, however, scoring 10 points in the period (he’d finish with 24 on the night) and keeping the Knicks from running away with the game. Roughly midway through the second, it registered that the lineup included Quickley and a bunch of the starters. They played pretty well, although IQ wasn’t quite ablaze like he has been.

For most of the second, the Knicks had a pretty significant lead, although in the final few minutes they started to play sloppily. Ultimately, they allowed the Bulls to more than double their first quarter total in the second. The Bulls took the quarter, 35-29, and the Knicks took a 9-point lead into the break.

The third quarter started with a RJ-to-Mitch alley-oop, suggesting the Knicks would reignite the flame that had started to weaken near the end of the first half. But Chicago was also a little more prepared to play than they had been at the get-go, LaVine poured in another 10 points, Payton wasn’t quite as prolific as he had been in the first, and Quickley only received just over two minutes of floor time.

The Bulls kept on coming, and repeatedly got the lead down to single digits, but the Knicks would not give in. Despite a 12-2 Bulls run and an overall sloppy quarter that featured 6 of New York’s 17 total turnovers for the night, the Knicks actually took the quarter, 28-24, and went into the final period up 91-76.

With Quickley performing at an average level rather than looking like a superstar, Thibs once again rode Payton for much of the fourth, even though he was no longer canning shots at the same high rate as the first half. As a matter of fact, the Bulls put the clamps down in the period, holding the Knicks to just 16 points on 6-20 from the field. In the final few minutes, it truly seemed like New York might blow it.

But these aren’t the Knicks of yesteryear. They withstood a late 14-3 Bulls run and hung on thanks to a bunch of clutch buckets from Randle, plus a huge corner three from Reggie Bullock. In the end, Quickley finalized the victory by hitting one of two free throws to extend New York’s lead to 4 with .3 seconds on the clock.

The Knicks are now 10-13. Through 23 games last year, they were 4-19 and on their second head coach of the season.

NOTES:

> It’s worth reiterating: Julius Randle is an All-Star who is making a strong case to be considered a part of this team’s future. He had another amazing night, amassing 27 points (11-20 from the field, 5-7 from deep), plus 6 rebounds and 6 assists. The five threes tied a career high.

> Mitch loves to hang around down low while pretending he isn’t totally engaged, before suddenly sneaking into the play and slamming a wide open dunk. Robinson finished with 8 points, 11 boards and 2 steals, but 0 blocks. It’s only the third time in 23 games this year that he’s failed to record at least one block.

> RJ was once again outstanding, with 17 points (8-16 shooting), 7 boards and 2 assists. He has started to do the thing Quickley does, where he gets past his guy but slows down and keeps the defender on his hip. IQ is great at drawing fouls on those plays. It would be wonderful if RJ could start doing that too.

> A quick second note on RJ: he seems to have a signature fancy dribble move now, where he bounces the ball between his legs but from behind. He did it tonight but missed the jumper. This example isn’t from tonight, but it gives you an idea of the move he’s been starting to incorporate more often.

> It feels like IQ and Mitch should play more minutes together. This is for multiple reasons, including so that there can be pick and rolls where the defense has to worry about both the floater and the lob.

> I can’t believe Nerlens Noel’s hands are not butter.

> It was an unassuming performance from Quickley, who finished with only 9 points (3-7 shooting, 2-3 from deep), 1 rebound and 1 assist in just over 13 minutes of action. Even though Elf had himself a game, Quickley deserved more time.

> Even though the game ball goes to Randle for playing a complete game and coming up clutch when the Knicks needed it, the game ball also goes to Payton, who played just well enough that Thibs will be convinced he should keep starting for at least awhile longer. Elf had 20 points (9-19 shooting, 0-2 from three), plus 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

As Knicksfan84 noted, “Payton playing like he don’t want to lose his starting PG spot.” Sure, Knicksfan84 might have gone on to note “trade him,” but like it or not, Elf secured the starting role for at least the next game. Fear not, though; Quickley’s time will come.

The Knicks are off until Saturday afternoon at 1 pm against the Portland Trail Blazers. The game is in New York. The quest to inch closer to .500 continues then. The Knicks should keep winning, even if it’s only for the Gipper.