In last night’s turnaround fourth quarter, one starter played about four minutes while two others rode the bench. The heartwarming story that played out at MSG was not without notes of concern, especially in the awful third quarter that made possible the rise to victory. For your consideration, here are three takeaways from the Knicks’ resplendent 100-98 win against those neon turds, the Miami Heat.
Thibs showed uncommon Randle restraint
It is rare for Thibs to practice discipline in his Randle usage. Last night was an encouraging change (although one could argue that he should have yanked Randle sooner).
For context: Julius Randle turned the ball over six times in the first half, and was largely ineffective in the third quarter, while Miami jumped to a 20-point lead. During that abhorrent stretch, he took five shots and made one. Most egregiously, Point Randle appeared at the worst possible time, with 20 seconds left in the quarter and the team desperately needing a score. I wrote about it here.
Thibs kept Randle on the bench to start the fourth and left him there for the next eight minutes, while Jalen Brunson, Immanuel Quickley, and RJ Barrett revived the team from the dead. The coach finally subbed in Julius with four minutes remaining, and my hunch is that he would have let the big power forward wither on the vine if another rebounder and fresh legs weren’t needed down the stretch. To his credit, Julius understood his role: he stuck to chasing down rebounds and avoided throwing things at the rim. The Knicks were better for it.
Randle would finish the game with a Plus/Minus of -8.
Numbers are fudgy, but consider . . . the Knicks as a whole had turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, and Miami converted those turnovers to 18 points. With Randle responsible for 60% of those goofs, that’s at least 10 points on him. The Knicks had a one-point halftime lead, but, theoretically, could have been ahead by 11.
Normally, Thibs gives Randle so much leash it seems there’s none at all, and the poodle is free to roam the park, pooping wherever he pleases. But Thibs must have recognized the damage wrought by Randle’s first-half turnovers, and even he couldn’t ignore the Q3 boneheadedness. Finally, the coach jerked the leash. We should applaud the action, although it is fair to ask: why not sooner?
Time for a Quentin Grimes change?
Maybe he came back too early.
Quentin Grimes suffered a bruised hand against Atlanta, which caused him to miss a game in Charlotte. Defying expectation, he hurried back to compete against Minnesota . . . and etched a big fat circle on his stat sheet.
Last night against the Heat, Quentin waited until the halftime buzzer to score his only three points of the game (with a nice assist from Randle, I must admit). Perhaps the hand still bothered him? Consult the chart below to see how many shots the Knicks’ starting shooting guard attempted last night:
Either way, the game was another in a series of disappointing Quentin Grimes games this season. And over in the Demote Grimes camp, the drumbeats swell with intensity. . . .
The player most often proposed to replace Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, took the most shots (17) of any Knick last night. I.Q. recorded 20 mostly game-saving points and finished with a team-high +22. He accomplished that while playing the team’s sixth-most minutes (25:48). A perfect Sixth Man.
No, Quickley will not start unless someone gets injured; Thibs is much too in love with bringing in a stealth bomber to incinerate the other team’s reserves. He knows that if I.Q. moves to the first five, the bench production will grind to a halt.
What might happen instead? The promotion of Donte DiVincenzo. Whereas Quentin has averaged 7.1 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in about 24 minutes per game, DDV has averaged 8.6 / 3.1 / 1.9 in almost 21 minutes; he’s also shot the three-ball at 38%, while QG is making 36%.
What’s more, there isn’t a drop-off in defense (Grimes’ calling card) when DiVincenzo checks in, but at the very least a continuation of the starter’s effort level.
In last night’s fourth quarter, DDV played 5:42 and contributed a key triple, while Grimes rode the pine for the full frame. Grimes played four more total minutes, but Donte was on the court when it most counted.
Grimes is a homegrown talent, so there’s an added desire to see him succeed. A demotion now wouldn’t be a forever thing, though. He’s just not proving, at the moment, that he’s ready to be a starting shooting guard. It’s fine, Quentin will handle the adjustment with his usual professional demeanor. He had to change gears when he switched colleges from Kansas to Houston, and positions from lead guard to shooting guard. He didn’t pout then, he won’t now. He’s a basketball robot.
One could argue that a demotion now would tarnish his trade value, as the Knicks are likely to eventually package him in a superstar swap. Of course, these zero-point or three-point games don’t help that cause, either. In fact, maybe letting him run up his numbers a bit with the second until will add a little smoke to the stat sheet and further entice a trade partner. Could happen.
Thibs might choose to leave Grimes where he is, relying on his “doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes” wisdom. But come postseason, when the roster is reduced to seven guys, Grimes had better be improved or playing backbreaking defense if he plans to get those precious Playoff minutes.
Mitch was out of sorts against Adebayo
Last night, Mitchell Robinson committed two quick personal fouls and was on the bench after five minutes. He was largely ineffective against Bam Adebayo, scoring seven rebounds and five points and finishing with a Plus/Minus of -17.
Adebayo is a tough assignment. He is the Heat’s second leading scorer and their top rebounder. He has been a second-team All-Defensive selection four times and can guard any position on the court. The gulf between Bam and Mitch might not be as wide as the chasm between Mitch and lesser centers, but it is real and was evident last night.
In 14 career games versus Bam, Robinson has averaged 6.9 rebounds and six points; conversely, Bam has gone 14.4 / 8.1 / 3.6 in those games. In the 2023 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Mitch averaged 8.8 rebounds and 5.2 points in six games against the Heat. Not bad statistics for him. Bam averaged 18.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, however, and helped carry his team to the Finals.
Recognizing Mitch’s struggles last night, Thibs opted for Isaiah Hartenstein over the big cajun for the entire final frame. The Big Strudel played almost all 12 minutes of the fourth and was a +18 for the game. So, maybe the positive reframe of this final takeaway is: isn’t it great that Hartenstein can come off the bench and hold his own against Bam, one of the league’s best?
I don’t know about you, but I relish the thought of a postseason rematch between these two teams. As for now, we have the Suns tomorrow, and I’m still smiling about last night today. Enjoy your Saturday, fam. And Go Knicks!