The moral of the season has been “next-man-up” and this game was no different. With Alec Burks still recovering from his absence due to COVID-19 protocols and Mitchell Robinson still sidelined, the Knicks took another hit when Nerlens Noel hurt his ankle and exited the game after 11 minutes.
Despite Noel’s immense impact this season, it was hard to notice he was gone, as Taj Gibson and Obi Toppin chipped in with a serviceable combined 48 minutes off the bench.
Julius Randle was his typical new self, dazzling with an effortless 31 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, and four three pointers, a pair coming in the third quarter to stop a mini-run by the Rockets to put them away for good.
Helping Taj Gibson relive his Chicago Bulls glory was teammate Derrick Rose, who as Clyde Frazier puts it, was vintage tonight with a near-perfect 24 points on 8-11 shooting (4-5 from deep) with six rebounds and four assists.
The Former-Bulls and Wolves duo of Gibson and Rose thrived again under Thibodeau with a +36 in and +35 in their minutes respectively,
RJ Barrett continued to carry a heavy workload in Alec Burks’ absence with 40 minutes, but made the most of them with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a +31 as he continued his much-improved shooting, making three out of seven three pointers and 4 of five free throws.
Immanuel Quickley didn’t play much until the game was out of reach but made sure to show just how exciting his future is with 13 points, four assists, and three three pointers in 22 minutes, including a three from “four-point” range.
Obi Toppin’s statline doesn’t seem much different from his disappointing performances at the beginning of the season, with just 5 points and three rebounds in 16 minutes on 1-4, but he continued to demonstrate a much-needed competence on defense with some timely contests and confidence on offense with two trips to the free throw line to give Randle some necessary rest.
It was a rather straightforward game, as P&Ter xhu35 noted. The Knicks played a bad team, they won by a lot. But the fact that can be said about a Knicks team expected to be lottery bound at worst, play-in contender at best preseason, (especially when good teams can still lose to bad teams like the Bucks just did to the Rockets) is still an exciting point to be at even if it is just a footnote in a historic season.