Heading into Monday night’s matchup against the Clippers, all of the talk surrounding the game was around the stars. Los Angeles, who already had a three-headed monster of Hall-of-Famers in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook, was showing off it’s new weapon, James Harden, who was making his Clippers debut. And New York couldn’t shake the noise around it’s lone All-Star from last season, Julius Randle, and his historic struggles to begin the season.
Yet the game came down to, and was won by, the other guys, the players whose resumes and accolades pale in comparison to ones mentioned above.
While Randle’s resurgence and RJ Barrett’s triumphant return from injury played a big role in the win, they, along with a struggling Jalen Brunson, combined for 60 points, which pretty much canceled out the 62 points that the Clippers’ four stars scored. However, if you look at everyone outside of the Knicks’ big three and the Clippers’ big four, you’ll notice that New York’s supporting cast outscored Los Angeles’ bench 51-38. And in a game where the Knicks won by 14, that 13-point differential just about did it.
The best part about it all was just how balanced everything was. Those 51 points and the 13-point differential wasn’t the result of any single guy. There was no 30-point explosion from Immanuel Quickley or two guys combining for 40. Instead, it was a true team effort that included great ball movement, quick decisions, a faster pace, and some amazing defensive and rebounding efforts to top it all off. We all witnessed what was likely the most exciting and fun brand of basketball we’ve seen all season.
Mitchell Robinson, who has been arguably the most important player on the team so far, scored 13 points while continuing his early season rebound domination with 15 boards. Isaiah Hartenstein, who may be just as reliable as any other player on this team, chipped in six points in 13 minutes against his former team. Josh Hart, who had struggled to start the season, looked as good as he has all season, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 32 minutes. Donte DiVincenzo, who has been inconsistent thus far, broke out of his mini slump by nailing three of his five attempts from beyond the arc while adding six rebounds, a steal, and a block. And the aforementioned Quickley scored seven points and dished out five assists without committing a single turnover.
Do the Knicks win this game if Randle doesn’t have his best game of the season? Maybe not. Would the Knicks have won had Barrett missed another game? Maybe not. But even with both of those guys’ having superb games last night, had the supporting cast not stepped up and done what they did, there’s a chance they still find a way to lose that game. And for that, this group of guys deserve some credit.
Truth be told, as I’ve previously stated, this team will likely need these guys to continue being great. The NBA is and always has been a star-driven league but the Knicks don’t have one that is as elite as some of their direct competition. What they have is two (three, if everyone believes in RJ Barrett as much as I do) really good players with five really solid, even great, pieces around them. But without a top-15 or top-20 player in the league, the Knicks will have to win a lot of their games on the backs of their depth and balance.
Last night was a great example of that.