“That’s why I love New York. They talk s**t, but they give you love as well.”
On the second night of a back-to-back set of games at MSG, the New York Knicks decided it was a good time to pull off their biggest comeback victory of the season.
The Knicks (29-26) defeated the Sixers 108-97 in regulation moving up 2-1 in the teams’ seasons series with the finale coming next Friday. New York needed to recover from a 21-point deficit, which the dudes did with flying colors ending up winners by a safe and sound 11-point margin.
Evan Fournier was the hero dropping the quote you read above. The French learned about what was coming his way just minutes before tip-off, with RJ Barrett (CLYDE-19) missing the game because of an illness.
Fournier came off the pine, logged 24 minutes (his most since Oct. 30), and bagged 17 points (including five 3-pointers) to go with one rebound, one dime, and one steal. “It was a fun one-night stand,” he said, before acknowledging he’s not taking this outing for what it is not as he thinks “[Tom Thibodeau] is set on his nine-man rotation.”
In any case, it’s funny that Fournier exploded for his best game of the year (he posted season-high marks on the points, triples, and shooting percentage categories on Sunday) just four days before the NBA goes past the trade deadline.
The same can be said about every piece on the Knicks bench. New York’s reserves outscored Philly’s 37-16. Tyrese Maxey (12 points) was the only Sixer coming off the paint to score more than two points against the Knicks yesterday night. Joel Embiid (31) was the only starter to score more than 14.
“We’ve been playing really well offensively. I [think] our defense tonight was probably the difference,” coach Thibodeau said after the game.
Julius Randle was on the same wavelength, affirming that for him, “the biggest difference between [Saturday’s loss to the Clippers] and tonight was our defense.”
Speaking of defensive efforts and Clyde jokes aside, Thibs doesn’t feel like the criticism Barrett has received throughout the weekend is merited by the young wing. He also explained why RJ missed this game—and no, it was not because of his supposed defensive woes.
“[Barrett] went through the walkthrough and in the pregame he just started feeling ill,” Thibodeau said. “It was a great team win all-around, it was great,“ he finished.
According to Thibs, “those numbers” media members and armchair analysts use to blast Barrett’s defensive chops are “meaningless” to him. A world-renowned defensive sensei, Thibs thinks he has studied advanced metrics “pretty hard for a long time,” and that he “doesn’t buy into it the way some people treat it as gospel.”
“You ask them what [the defensive rating metric] means, and they can’t explain it,” Thibs said. The coach reasoned that “the way it works, defensively, it’s five guys working together, and the people that are tracking things, there’s no context to it.“ He kept on going, saying that “you don’t know whose responsibility it is to switch, you don’t know whose responsibility it is to show, you don’t know if there is a responsibility to stay down. You don’t know any of that.”
Whatever. Nothing is moving RJ from the starting lineup so this feels like time-wasting.
Miles McBride dumped 14 pops on Philly in 23 minutes. Isaiah Hartenstein added just two points but grabbed 14 (!) rebounds, four of those offensive. Obi Toppin, who along with Fournier might have played his last home game at MSG, played 14 minutes contributing four points and four rebounds.
“Philadelphia has been playing as well as anyone in the league,” Thibodeau said. “We knew we had a big test for us. We started off, got in a hole. I thought our bench came in, they gave us a big lift, and then when the starters came back, they were terrific.”
Randle came back to his All-Star ways and got close to fellow ASG-reserve Embiid’s numbers with 24 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Jalen Brunson contributed 21 pops to go with five boards and seven dimes. Each Immanuel Quickley (5 points) and Quentin Grimes (13) grabbed three rebounds each while starting big man Jericho Sims pulled down seven on the glass adding eight points and a couple of thefts to that.
“For us to come back today, compete, and win the game, it says a lot about the character of our team,” Randle said. “It was a big win.”
New York is still in possession of the no. 7 seed in the East with a 1.5 lead over Atlanta and just 0.5 games behind Miami (29-25) in the conference standings.
There is a sizable gap to bridge between Miami and the top-4 teams, but we all expect our friendly foes from Brooklyn to drop a bunch of seeds through the remainder of the season with Kyrie packing his bags on his way to Dallas and Cupcake Kev about to demand a trade to escape a mess of his own creation for the nth time in his career.
Next and final game before in-season trades are banned tipping off at 7:00 PM EST on Tuesday at the Magic. Don’t miss it.