There is this thing teams do in the NFL when they stage a practice on Friday only for them to dress in shorts and jerseys, goof around, run some soft drills, and complete a walkthrough before the real action happens on Sunday.
That’s pretty much what the New York Knicks did at MSG when they hosted the visiting Hornets in yesterday’s matinee, blasting them 129-107 in a no-contest, walkthrough-type game.
The sample size is still tiny, but it feels good to check the standings and find the Knicks having a 3-2 home record through the first nine games of the season and five matchups played inside MSG.
It feels good to have our dudes up to 5-4 on the season, 3-3 in Eastern Conference games, and 2-2 away from home.
The only thing missing is winning an In-Season Tournament game. Can’t complain!
Tom Thibodeau is asked about what his attitude is when the Knicks are up big in a game:— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) November 12, 2023
"Yeah, I just chill" pic.twitter.com/FTLorWXJ81
It was such a pleasing afternoon that not even Tom Thibodeau felt the urge to keep their starters on the court for the full 48 minutes. Quite the sighting and an unbelievable development. Ask the very own members of the organization.
Said Jalen Brunson: “I thought I was going back in. Always got to assume.”
Said Julius Randle: “Mentally, I was ready [to go back in].”
Yes, Thibodeau sat the trio of Randle, Brunson, and Mitchell Robinson through the whole fourth quarter. No, he didn’t bench RJ Barrett or Quentin Grimes until deep into garbage time—which on Sunday started around halftime.
“In this league, no lead is safe. I’ve seen it all,” Thibs explained, “I’ve seen 13 points in 35 seconds. So people that tell you to get the starters out—Well, I know what experience tells me.”
Thibodeau was referencing Tracy McGrady’s 13-in-33 (if you’re too young to remember, definitely peep to witness a true walking bucket at work). Randle diagnosed his coach as having “a lot of trauma,” as Thibs assisted Jeff Van Gundy in the Houston Rockets back in 2004 when T-Mac dropped his gem and the current Knicks honcho watching it all unfold in front of him.
Tom Thibodeau referenced Tracy McGrady's 13 points in 33 seconds today when asked about resting rotation players late in games— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) November 12, 2023
Julius Randle responds: "He's got a lot of trauma man, he's gotta work on that" pic.twitter.com/AoOqS1R0Hf
Speaking of Randle, it took him all of 40 seconds to peak in the game against the Hornets. He scored the first two points of the game 25 seconds into the contest hitting a 10-foot shot, then stole a rock from Gordon Hayward and turned it into a three-point, 25-foot pullup bucket.
Randle would finish strong with 23 points on 16 shots (shooting 50% from the floor) bagging six freebies while contributing all across the board with five boards, five dimes, and three thefts in 27 minutes.
Three other starters scored in double digits with Mitch putting up 10 followed by Brunson’s 20 and RJ Barrett’s team-high 24 points.
Brunson’s game was hella weird as he paired that scoring with just one rebound, one assist, one steal, and one turnover.
Barrett posted a game-high +26 plus/minus on another exquisite shooting day in which he swished 9-of-16 from the field, 4-of-6 from three.
Mitch fell just one rebound short of dub-dubbing and surprisingly didn’t block a shot. Sometimes you just can’t have it all.
Quentin Grimes put up a Brunson-esque stat line—minus the points: he bagged six pops contributing one-one-one on the steals, rebounds, and assists columns.
The main talking point following Saturday’s practice was the second unit of the Knicks.
Yesterday, all reserves (you should know by now that “all” doesn’t include Evan Fournier, but just in case) got to play at least three minutes contributing 46 points, 20 rebounds, and 16 dimes on the spot.
As expected, Immanuel Quickley was the leading man on the Bench Mob, bagging 17 points to go with five rebounds and falling just one assist short of pulling off the double-double. Only one personal foul and one turnover.
Isaiah Hartenstein made history by becoming the first Knick this season to foul out of the game. Yes, it was that type of slow news Sunday.
“Whoever’s in there, we all understand how we want to play,” Quickley said on Saturday when discussing the second unit. “That’s fast, get stops and run. That’s when we are at our best.”
Quickley has seen his minutes drop nearly five minutes this season (from 28.9 MPG to 24.2) with the arrival of Donte DiVincenzo last summer. Thibs was asked about it ahead of the game, and all he said was “The one thing we ask everybody is to sacrifice.”
Thibodeau thinks “You could make a case that Quick is a starter, Donte is a starter, Josh [Hart] is a starter,” adding “They’re sacrificing that for the team.”
After Sunday’s win, Thibodeau said “We had a number of guys who made very unselfish plays and then we got going defensively a little bit.”
It was, in fact, the third win in a row and the third consecutive game in which the Knicks racked up 25+ stats as a team. He had 24 and 30 in the first two games of the season (a loss against Boston and a win at Atlanta), but they followed that up with four consecutive games stalled at 19 (once) and 18 (three times).
“We just played hard from the beginning,” Barrett said. “They were a little undermanned, and in a 12 o’clock game, whoever comes out right from the beginning of the game is going to win the game, so we were able to do that.”
The Hornets lost their second-best player, second overall pick Brandon Miller, after he played just 10 minutes and sprained his left ankle. He left MSG with 11 points shooting 5-of-6 from the field. Get well soon, rook!
The flashiest of them all Bees was, who else, LaMelo Ball. There was a point in the first quarter of play when I legitimately thought the Knicks were in for a 50-burger cooked by Melo. No dice. He led all players on Sunday with 32 points... and somehow managed to trail everybody with a minus-32 in the +/- column.
As BKGiantsFant said: “Solid win over a weird team.”
Will we ever watch LaMelo play ball inside MSG clad in Blue and Orange? I believe it will happen at some point down the road, and that Ball would love the bright lights of Manhattan, but I might not be an accurate prognosticator.
These days, New York is probably closer to welcoming Gordon Hayward via trade than LaMelo somehow, some way.
Quoth Thibs, who has loved the former Celtics wing for years on end praised him once again yesterday: “One of the best all-around players in the league in terms of scoring at all three levels. Great vision, can play-make.”
Speaking of the Celtics, that’s the main course awaiting New York on Monday following Sunday’s breakfast. The Knicks feasted on Charlotte. Will they do it again in Boston, on the road, on the second day of this back-to-back meal?
Tip-off at 7:30 ET in TD Garden. Don’t miss it.