It feels like every game could be the final game of the Tom Thibodeau Era. If Tuesday’s 118-111 win in the Utah was the final win of Thibs’ tenure coaching the Knicks, he certainly gave fans some things to discuss. There was some good (no Fournier minutes!), some weird (no Grimes minutes?), and some frustration (the late-game treatment of IQ and Obi).
Let’s start late in the third quarter. The starters let the Jazz take back the lead in the third, and Utah looked primed to extend their lead when the reserves checked into the game. The Knicks bench needed to respond as they had so many times last season. Fortunately, Immanuel Quickley was up to the task. With Derrick Rose clearly diminished this season, it really feels like IQ needs to take control of the second unit. It helps that they didn’t have to drag around the corpse of Evan Fournier, who got a DNP-CD. Anyway, IQ was definitely up to the challenge, hitting two triples and a layup. Obi Toppin continued his ascent as the NBA’s most unlikely 3P sniper by hitting a pair of threes himself. In a flash, the bench had turned a deficit into a 10-point Knicks lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
Of course, Thibs wasn’t satisfied. He pulled Obi at the first opportunity. That wasn’t surprising — it’s just who Thibs is at this point. What really surprised me was that he eventually pulled Quickley, who was an absolute two-way force throughout the game (13 points, 4 steals). The Jazz seemed to regain the pep in their step, at least on offense. Last season’s Knicks might have collapsed under the weight of the coach’s incompetence. Fortunately, these Knicks have Jalen Brunson and — I can’t believe I’m typing this — Cam Reddish. Those two held off a Utah rally and secured a win for the good guys.
- Brunson played a sloppy game by his own high standards (4 turnovers), but that dude knows how to get big buckets. He also found Cam and RJ for layups late. Brunson led the team with 25 points and 8 assists. He also kept the ball away from Julius Randle in the fourth, which was important.
- Still, in terms of impact, I would put two Knicks ahead of Brunson on this evening: Cam Reddish and Immanuel Quickley. The Jazz really pass the ball well, and the Knicks usually struggle with that kind of ball movement. But more passes mean more opportunities for turnovers, and IQ and Cam have the length and tenacity to make Utah pay for any sloppy passes. On offense, Cam recovered from a poor start to finish with 19 points on 7-13 shooting. Perhaps my favorite sequence of the game was when Malik Beasley hit his second three in a row to push the Jazz lead to seven, and Cam went right back down the floor to can a three in Beasley’s eye. He’s playing great basketball right now.
- IQ is the Knicks’ best defender at this point. He just is. If he is truly emerging from his shooting slump — he shot 5-10 from the field, 3-6 from three — then he’s going to have a special season.
- RJ Barrett is apparently sick with a non-COVID illness. He really struggled from the field (5-11) and the free-throw line (8-14). If he’s really sick, maybe let him sit Wednesday night in Denver.
- Obi Toppin shot 3-4 from three, which is apparently just normal stuff now. He’s shooting 42.4% for the season. Preposterous.
- Randle was just kind of there tonight, which is an improvement for him. He did call the players-only meeting the day before, though. As P&T’er ISwearImNotJamesDolan noted, the players should get together for dinner more often if this is going to be the result.
- No minutes for Quentin Grimes. Hopefully this is just some Thibs weirdness and not some more foot issues.
Can the Knicks make it two in a row Wednesday night in Denver, where they haven’t won in like 20 years? We’ll see soon enough!