On the night of The Return of Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett to Madison Square Garden after getting traded away from New York at the end of December, the Knicks (26-17) trounced and mauled the visiting Raptors in front of a capacity crowd of 19,812 souls who went home knowing their team had blasted Toronto 126-100.
As things stand, the Knicks sit in the Eastern Conference no. 5 seed all by themselves and if nothing changes then they’ll have won 49.6 games by mid-May. Math 101 taught me that rounds up to a smooth 50. Five-oh, fifty victories.
Since the Knicks became a thing, they have won 50+ games exactly 13 times in franchise history. There was the ‘60s-’70s triumphant epoch, the frustrating '90s era, and only one more gloriously winning season after that happening more than a decade ago when the Melo Knicks won 54 games in 2013. That’s it.
Winning 50 games means little to nothing, and it’s more than likely that the Knicks will drop a couple of odd ones and fail to reach that milestone. But this type of New York basketball has rarely been witnessed in NYC here for the last 25 years.
Again, check the list of absolute-best regular-seasoners and you’ll see that not winning 65+ games is all but a guarantee to win the chip. And even then, the best team in the history of this bucket-getting game went on to lose the Finals not long ago.
On a day that brought with it a family reunion and also a matchup between franchises with two very diverging paths ahead, the contending Knicks dealt the heaviest of blows to the retooling Raptors on Saturday.
Julius Randle, fighting for a place in the All-Star game for the third time in his career, put up his first triple-double of the season and 14th career-wise: 18-16-10 was the line, and he did it all in just 32 minutes of playing time.
“Every time I got it, they were bringing two. That was kinda my mindset coming in: be aggressive, but just kinda read and take what the defense was giving me,” Randle said. “And that’s kinda how I’ve been seeing it the past few games. I’ve been able to score the ball at a high clip, but if they double-team me, I gotta be able to make the right plays.”
Jalen Brunson, he of the ASG-but-not-MVP talk, added 38 points and fell just one dime short of dub-dubbing, also grabbing five rebounds and committing one theft on the day.
Two other starters, Donte DiVincenzo (17) and OG Anunoby (14) scored in double figures. The one who didn’t, Isaiah Hartenstein, brought a sour note to this bittersweet affair: he left the game injured and was eventually ruled out for the remainder of the contest having logged just 23 minutes of play.
Tom Thibodeau says Isaiah Hartenstein has a sprained ankle and that he doesn’t know the severity. Doesn’t know how the injury happened.— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) January 21, 2024
Head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game he didn’t see what happened on the play that brought I-Hart down, and that he had no update on the player’s status other than he suffered a “sprained ankle,” per Kristian Winfield of the Daily News. The Knicks corrected Thibs labeling the injury as just a “sore left ankle,” after the coach’s comments.
“I haven’t talked to medical staff yet, so we’ll see where it is tomorrow,” Thibodeau said.
“I feel really good about our center position because Jericho is ready,” added Thibs. “When his opportunity comes, I know he’ll do well. He’s active, a great rebounder. He brings a lot to our team as well.”
Those are cute words, but the depth at the center position is precarious at best, nonexistent at worst: Precious Achiuwa projects as the next-in-line starter, Jericho Sims is the backup, and it’s crickets after that with Mitchell Robinson still weeks away from getting re-evaluated, let alone coming back.
Even if Hartenstein had not played on Saturday, the Knicks would have probably outrebounded their rivals at the end of the day, anyway. The final tally was 61-31 New York on the battle of the boards, although that was all about the Raps not having their lone center (Jakob Poeltl) available, having to rely instead on rookie Jontay Porter to man the paint.
“We knew that they would play small so we thought we have a big advantage rebounding-wise,” said Thibodeau. “So lets really try to emphasize that and take advantage of it.”
Brunson’s comments after the game aligned with his coach’s remarks: “We try to emphasize outrebounding teams as best you can. It was one of those nights where we just outrebounded them by a lot, but it’s always an emphasis.”
Had to show out at the crib— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 21, 2024
Brunson 38 PTS | 9 AST | 5 REB
Randle 18 PTS | 16 REB | 10 AST
Precious 18 PTS | 11 REB | 1 BLK
Donte 17 PTS | 3 REB | 1 STL
OG 14 PTS | 7 REB | 3 BLK
Josh 10 PTS | 9 REB | 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/Q4p9Zp5Ihu
The start was a bit shaky (0-11 down) with RJ and IQ high on the adrenaline running through their systems, but that initial boost died quickly and the hosts gave Toronto no option at all once the clock hit 24. A two-point halftime lead by the Knicks eventually turned into an insurmountable 28-point advantage that ended at 26 by the final buzzer.
Since the start of the season, the Knicks have limited an opponent to 100 or fewer points 14 times already. That’s the most such outings by a team this campaign across the NBA entering Sunday’s slate.
They have done it seven times in the past three weeks, which is to say in the time OG Anunoby has spent with the Knicks since debuting with New York on the first day of January.
- New York Knicks games without OG and allowing 100 or fewer points: 4
- New York Knicks games with OG Anunoby and allowing 100 or fewer points: 10
Asked about his overall positive impact on the Knicks (the team has outscored opponents by 190 points with OG on the court), the wing conceded, “I’m impressed.”
Said OG: “I always want to impact winning. So I want to keep having a good plus-minus. Even plays that don’t go on the stat sheet. Steals and stuff. A block. Or a contest. A closeout that forces a bad shot. Little stuff that doesn’t get noticed. I try to do all those little things.”
Coming to town with Anunoby were other players: Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. The former didn’t do much (three points, one rebound, and one assist in three minutes) but the latter enjoyed his best game as a true New Yorker.
Achiuwa bagged himself a season-high 18 points in 25 minutes, pulled down 11 rebounds (another season-high), and blocked one shot.
"The ball just happened to come my way today. The most important thing was getting a win…"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) January 21, 2024
–– Precious Achiuwa postgame to Alan Hahn
Achiuwa with his best game as a Knick, a 126-100 W against his old team the Raptors:
•4 offensive pic.twitter.com/o9Jev5EM4d
“Just playing the game, you know what I mean? I didn’t do anything different,” Achiuwa said postgame. “I approach the game the same way every day, play the same way. The same intensity. Today just happened to be a day where things went my way.”
Josh Hart returned to the court after missing last Thursday’s game against Washington. No beats skipped, as Hart played a smooth 26 minutes off the pine scoring 10 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and racking up the best plus/minus figure (+20) among Knickerbocker reserves.
The rest of the bench mob, as’s been the case for the whole month and after waving goodbye to IQ, stank—yes, that’s including Quentin Grimes even though he got 20 minutes of run. QG kept tanking his value and not helping the Knicks' prospective trade packages with a 2-of-8 shooting performance going oh-fer from three and finishing with a 4-4-1-1-1 line.
All of the good aside, however, the Knicks still committed a freaking 21 turnovers against the Raptors, and seven of them unsurprisingly came by way of Randle.
“Just turning the ball over too much,” Randle said. “Me, seven is way too much. But we just had to get our turnovers down. Once we executed in the second half, slowed down and just made sound decisions, we were fine.”
That’s correct, but that’s not quite a winning strategy going forward, let alone against tougher opponents.
This was Toronto, which is 16-27 on the season and way below .500. This year, New York is a perfect 19-0 against teams with losing records right now. Remove those 19 dubs from the regular-season balance and the Knicks are 7-16 in the rest of their games. Not optimal!
But that’s a story for another day. Today, it’s all about the memories.
Full HD Knicks tribute video tribute for Immanuel Quickley & RJ Barrett pic.twitter.com/p03toXL6Fa— Big Knick Energy (@BigKnickEnergy_) January 21, 2024
Knicks back hooping next Tuesday, on the road (?) at Brooklyn. Tip-off at 7:30, don’t miss it.