It took facing the Houston Rockets (18-58) to fix an ongoing three-game losing skid, but the New York Knicks (43-33) emerged victorious from facing the Wemby-bound Texans in the return of the locals to MSG on Monday, earning a solid 137-115 win.
Not even taking on a Jalen Brunson-less squad boosted the chances of the lowly Rockets, who dropped their sixth consecutive game and their seventh in the last 10 games they’ve played. No need to mention Houston is in possession of the second-worst NBA record and only above the Detroit Pistons in the league-wide standings.
Actually, not having Brunson around helped the Knicks unlock a career-best effort by the upcoming Sixth Man of the Year, Mr. Immanuel Quickley.
“When I know I’m starting, I try to get everyone involved early and make sure everyone has a feel for the game offensively,” Quickley said. “Everyone has to pick it up when one of your best players is out.”
Words from IQ, who cooked himself a 40-burger on the day. Yes, 40 pops. 40 buckets. 40 rocks.
Quickley led the Knicks with a 40-point outing in which he shot 14-of-18 from the field, 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, and 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. He fell just one dime short of getting a dub-dub, and he contributed two rebounds, and steal, and a block. Can’t ask for more.
“My teammates were pushing me to get 40 and also try to get that 10th assist,” said IQ, who went to the free-throw line with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter and 38 points already in his bag.
Speaking about that trip after the game, Quickley said it was “tougher than probably game-winning free throws,” revealing that he “started thinking about all the work that I’ve put in throughout the whole summer, really throughout my life.
“Just a whole bunch of flashbacks started going through my mind,” IQ finished.
That was definitely a high-pressure moment for Quickley, if only on a personal level. He went to the line having tied his prior career-high of 38 points, and he exited the paint having added two more points to his total from Monday, boasting 40 and forcing statisticians worldwide to update their record files.
“[Quickley] has always been an explosive scorer,” Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “I don’t know what he is but a good basketball player. He’s good starting. He’s good off the bench. If you need scoring, he can score. If you need playmaking, he had nine assists. You can play him at the point, at the two, at the three. You can plug-and-play him.
“He’s not afraid,” the coach finished.
"I started thinking about all the work that I put in throughout the whole summer — really throughout my life; just a whole bunch of flashbacks started going through my mind"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) March 28, 2023
— Immanuel Quickley on shooting the free throw that became his 40th point, his new career high pic.twitter.com/jXNSjTRiKN
New York grabbed a 23-22 lead with a little over four minutes remaining in the first period and your boys never relinquished it, fending off Houston’s attempts for a comeback all game long—including separating from a late-second-quarter 53-53 tie and growing the lead to a game-high 33 through the final stanza.
The Knicks had five players scoring in double digits, none of them named Mitchel Robinson (three points, six boards, three blocks). Quickley led the way with 40, followed by Julius Randle’s 26, RJ Barret’s 19, Obi Toppin’s 15 off the pine, and Quentin Grimes’ 14.
“I like the way we came out today,” Randle said. “Finally got our defense going in the second half. Just playing efficient basketball.”
“Winning definitely solves a lot of things,” added Quickley.
“Every game is a must-win,” Barrett said.
WHAT A BLOCK FROM ROBINSON! pic.twitter.com/tsLnAG4fcF— Let’s Talk Knicks (LTK) (@LetsTalkKnicks_) March 28, 2023
Speaking of Brunson’s absence, Thibs doesn’t think you can replace a guy like Brunson with an individual player, rather believing that “you do it with a team.” Speaking before the game, Thibodeau already warned that Brunson had sprained his hand although the point entered Monday as questionable to play, only later getting ruled out of the matchup against Houston.
Quickley agreed with Thibs, saying, “Everybody has to pick it up when one of your best players is out, whether that be scoring, defense, leadership.”
The Rockets won the rebound battle 40-39 but New York destroyed Houston on the assists/turnover front with 39 dimes and 10 turnovers to the Rockets’ 24 and 14.
Good for the Knicks, they didn’t win the technical-foul war with Randle finally dodging getting called for a T after doing so in three consecutive games. Media being media, they asked the All-Star about that.
“Name a perfect leader. Name a perfect human being,” Randle said after the game. “At the end of the day, I just want to win and compete and that’s where my focus is. If I’m frustrated that’s where I’m coming from.” He added that “at the end of the day, we’re a team, we’re good, and we’re just focused on winning.”
Thibodeau stated the obvious by saying that “winning is always way more fun than fun is fun.”
The Knicks are facing Miami at MSG on Wednesday for the final time this season. New York holds a 2-1 series lead between the two franchises, although the Heat got the better of the Knickerbockers when they met last Wednesday in Florida.
“Sometimes you look at where we are, it’s been a challenging month, we’ve had guys out, but I like the way we’re fighting... And now we get ready for Miami,” Thibs said.
Knicks. Heat. Wednesday. Tip-off at 7:30. Season on the line. Don’t miss it.