On a night when the franchise honored the golden anniversary of their last championship squad, the New York Knicks (35-27) easily plucked the New Orleans Pelicans (30-31) at Madison Square Garden, 128-106.
The Knicks last won the NBA championship in 1973. That’s a long time ago. And yet, I’m starting to get a peculiar feeling about the current team. It’s not championship feels, but I daresay this 2022-23 club has a deep playoff run in it. What a remarkable reversal from my assessment of them after the first quarter of the season.
Tonight, the Knicks took an early lead, thanks in part to eight straight points from Julius Randle. RJ Barrett got off to an auspicious start, too, scoring the game’s first points and later cashing in on a three-point play.
The Pelicans desperately need Zion Williamson. They lost in Toronto on Thursday night, and aside from local boy Jose Alvarado’s usual antics, the birds played like a sleepy flock. Throughout the first, they were outmatched and outclassed by the Knicks, who methodically packed on the points and swept the boards. New York closed the first quarter 42-26. It was their second-highest first quarter total of the season.
The Knicks kept rolling through the second frame, expanding their lead to 23. Jonas Valančiūnas is a fine center but no match for Mitchell Robinson. Lordy, I missed this guy:
Robinson with MAJOR authority pic.twitter.com/oq6jnj38Dv— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 26, 2023
Midway through the quarter, the Pelicans pecked at the deficit a bit and closed the gap to 15 points. Thibs called a timeout at 6:50 and after that, the Bockers resumed their punishing ways. They were a well-oiled, well-coordinated Pelican-executing machine. Threes were falling with ease, e.g.:
Brandon Ingram serves as N.O.’s fulcrum with Zion out. He struggled mightily through the first half, going O-for-5 from downtown and sinking only three of 11 shot attempts.
New York entered intermission up 73-52, which was apropos, given that the 1973 legends were paid tribute during a half-time ceremony. The current iteration of the New York’s best basketball team had won the first half in almost every category. They shot 54% from the field to New Orleans’ 41%, and outshot the Pels from deep 50% (13-for-26) to 11% (2-for-19). New York out-rebounded the competition 23 to 19, and out-assisted them 14 to 11.
The Bockers had four blocks in the first, led by two from Immanuel Quickley. It’s a special night when I.Q. swats down more shots than Mitchell Robinson!
During the halftime celebration, some slightly-younger Knicks legends (John Starks, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Bernard King, and Stat) came out to share in the festivities. Walt “Clyde” Frazier availed himself admirably with a bit of humble-bragging. Among the honorees present were Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley, Jerry Lucas, and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Everyone who rooted for the team back then has a favorite. My father used to sing Monroe’s praises when I was kid, and I took his word for it. Lucky for us, we have YouTube for proof of how that Pearl gleamed.
And here’s a nice recap of that championship team:
After the extended halftime, the Knicks got back to work. They goosed the lead to 27 points. Jalen Brunson’s ballhandling gave the home crowd good reason to chant MVP when he stepped up to the charity stripe.
The Pels put together a 12-2 run, thanks in part to some sloppy play and two consecutive Knick turnovers, but that only cut the gap to 16 points. Thibs called a timeout, and the Pelican abuse commenced again with vigor. New York finished the third with another 20-point lead.
In the fourth, the lead reached 30. And it doesn’t get more fun than this:
The highlight of the last frame, however, was when, with two minutes remaining, the crowd chanted for Derrick Rose and Thibs acquiesced. On a night spent commemorating legends, it was appropriate to see Rose get spotlit, too. Before the game, Jalen Brunson addressed the crowd, stating that the current squad tries to abide by the same values and virtues of the 1973 champions. By tonight’s conclusion, none could disagree.
- Two Duke players were featured in this one. Brandon Ingram was the number two pick (Lakers) in the 2016 draft; R.J. Barrett went third in 2019. Barrett finished with 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting, 4-for-7 from deep, 5-for-5 from the stripe, and a season-high seven assists. B.I.’s totaled 19 points on 7-for-22 shooting. Nice outing from the Maple Mamba.
- The Knicks had been a sub-par home team for the first half of the season. Since January 1, however, they’ve gone 9-5. Their record is now 17-15 at home and look much more comfortable on their court.
- Julius Randle, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram were all Lakers in 2018. All three wound up traded to the Pelicans. Does that foretell Ingram also becoming a Knick one day? (I’d have reservations.)
- Josh Hart has played five games as a Knick; not-so-coincidentally, New York has won five straight. In his first four games, he averaged 14 points, 5.5 rebounds, and three assists. He finished tonight with 15 points and five boards while shooting 5-for-6. But the very best part of his time with the club? Nobody mentions Cam Reddish anymore. Well done, Leon Rose.
- Amateur statisticians, lend a hand. Including tonight, the Knicks have won six (!) games from buzzer-to-buzzer. How many did they win in that fashion last season?
- The Knicks tied their season-high with 19 made threes.
Quoth NYK_OG: “What a great addition JHart has been.” Indeed. There was a time when I would have been giddy about New York trouncing a team from wire-to-wire. Instead, tonight’s game felt like a foregone conclusion. This team has really become something special. A true test of their mettle is upcoming, however, when the Celtics visit on Monday. Rehydrate and rest up, Knickerbockers. I’m off to watch a movie with Mrs. Richardson.