The Knicks, mind you, didn’t have any of Julius Randle (ankle) or RJ Barrett (non-COVID illness) available. The former will be re-evaluated in less than two weeks and wore a protective boot on his left foot. The latter was nowhere to be found.
The Wiz sat all of Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, and Monte Morris. The first will be a free agent next summer. The second recently signed a bloated contract. The third is an amateur fashionista. The fourth attended Flint Beecher HS in Michigan.
Immanuel Quickley started in place of RJ and Obi Toppin did so in place of Randle. They logged 37 and 31 minutes respectively, finishing the game with 22 and 21 points.
Quentin Grimes (41) played more minutes than every living Knick on Sunday, and he along with Toppin played every single round of the clock in the second half of yesterday’s affair.
It took a while for New York to take the lead for good—more than halfway through the third stanza—but once the Knicks put themselves up three, 72-69, they never again gave it back to the visitors from the capital.
“It feels good, but we’ve still got to win a couple more. We need to clinch the fifth spot,” Toppin told SNY after the game.
It’s the second time in three years the Knicks will play a postseason game. Before doing so at the start of this decade in the 2020-21 season, New York’s prior appearance in the NBA playoffs took place back in the Melo Days, 2013 campaign.
New York beat Boston (the Knicks' only playoffs series victory since making it to the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals), then fell to Indiana, then disappeared from the playoffs picture for the remainder of the decade.
Not anymore, folks.
The Knicks aren’t yet quite there when it comes to clinching that no. 5 place, but it’s just a matter of time more than anything else. Just win one more game—or let Brooklyn lose one—and they’d clinch that fifth seed. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
“It’s a great accomplishment because it’s one of the goals,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after officially avoiding the play-in and qualifying for the postseason. “It’s the next step along the way, so [we have to] keep going, and that’s where the focus is. We know how important the next game is. Just keep checking the boxes as we go.”
Four of New York’s five starters scored 21 or more points with Mitchell Robinson (eight) the only one falling short. Mitch Rob made up for that by leading the team on the boards with 11 rebounds to go with a packed line filled with four dimes, two steals, and one swat.
Isaiah Hartenstein added nine points and eight rebounds. Deuce logged nine minutes scoring a couple of points. Josh Hart played 26 minutes and finished with the fewest points (two) he’s ever scored since arriving in Manhattan. He also gave us the scare of the day.
“I’m extremely excited,” Hart said about making the playoffs for the first time since he turned pro. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had the opportunity to do. Can’t wait to see the Garden rocking during that time.”
The vibes were great then, but Hart went to the locker room with slightly less than eight minutes left in the game. He could have re-entered the affair after coming back with a taped ankle, according to MSG’s Rebecca Harlow, but Thibs just wasn’t going to risk Hart’s biscuit so he never played again on the day. “I’ve played with worse,” Hart claimed to no avail.
“We got Indy next, so just got to go out there and continue to grow, continue to improve, and play our best basketball,” Hart told reporters. “It’s a good accomplishment, it checks that box, but we gotta continue to get better.”
This was NYK’s fourth consecutive win and the seventh in the last 10 games the Knicks have played.
“Our job is to put the work in each day. But there’s no trick to this, there’s no magic to this, there’s no shortcut to it. Just put the work in each and every day. If you do that, you’ll get better and you’ll have a chance. And that’s what we did,” said Thibs after getting one more win.
The Knicks were so good on Sunday that even forgotten man Evan Fournier logged a healthy seven minutes of cardio and glass-crashing, getting a couple of boards but missing his lone field-goal attempt—one from range. He had not played since Feb. 12.
“We were challenged,” Brunson said after the game, “...and we responded.”
Brunson conceded qualifying for the playoffs is “a great feeling” and “something you strive for,” but he also warned everybody that “we’ve still got a lot of work to do.” The Knicks have three more games left in their schedule, two of them against Indiana sandwiching a meeting with the New Orleans Pelicans next Friday.
“First and foremost, we want to finish the season as strong as we can. Even getting in the playoffs we don’t want to coast. We want to continue to get better, continue to find ways to make each other better, and make sure we’re staying focused as we’re going forward. That’s what’s most important,” finished Brunson.
Brunson closed the game tied for the most points scored on Sunday with 27, matching Grimes’ tally and dishing out eight dimes while at it.
“We’re in (the playoffs), but there are still some things at stake,” Thibodeau thinks. “We need to keep playing, we need to play our best going in. We’re young. We still have a lot of improvement. We’re not there yet. If we’re locked in, maybe we’ll consider that, but there are things we can still get done.”
Toppin agreed with his coach, saying that the Knicks “got to build good habits” before the start of the playoffs, also thinking they “got to still work on our game, get better as a team offensively and defensively, because we want to be at our best going into the playoffs.”
We are still a few days away from the postseason getting rolling with the Play-In tourney tipping off April 11th and lasting till April 14th. Official first-round games coming on April 15th.
“We have to continue to win as many games as possible,” Brunson said. “All the other stuff is going to fall into place.”
Falling, indeed, are the Dallas Mavericks. Sitting in 11th place in the West, the Mavs’ first-round pick would not get traded to your New York Knickerbockers as things stand because of its bottom-10 protections.
B*tch, don’t kill my bible, a great poet once said.
“We were just out there, just having fun, moving the ball and just playing freely,” Obadiah Richard Toppin Jr. said.
“A lot of guys played well tonight, stepped up. We’ve got a lot of room to grow. It’s great. We have a lot of hard-working guys on this team,” Rick Daniel Brunson’s son said.
Next game on Wednesday, on the road, against the lowly Indiana Pacers. Tip-off at 7:00 EST. 79 down, three to go. Don’t miss it.