There were moments during the third quarter of Monday night’s victory over the Hawks when it felt like the Knicks were about to melt and congeal on the court, a disgusting blob of a basketball team. But New York withstood its stumbles and staved off Atlanta thanks to a late injection of Immanuel Quickley, combined with overall outstanding performances from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
With the win, the Knicks complete their first road trip of the year at 3-1, and stand at 4-3 for the season. In two weeks, Tom Thibodeau has officially matched the total number of victories David Fizdale was able to amass in the 22 games before his firing last season. As of the time this sentence is being written, the Knicks were tied for 5th place in the Eastern Conference (technically, they were also tied for 8th). Oh, FWIW, the Knicks, 2-0 since the calendar turned to 2021, remain undefeated in the new year.
Terrific job by Tom Thibodeau in finding the 113 points needed to win Fulton County, Georgia.
— Dolan J. Trump (@Dolan_J_Trump) January 5, 2021
The Knicks were without a host of players, as has become customary. No Nerlens Noel, Obi Toppin, Alec Burks, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. or Omari Spellman. The Hawks, meanwhile, were playing without Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn. And although the Knicks looked locked in at tip off, it wasn’t so obvious throughout the evening that they were going to outlast their opponent.
RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton provided most of the offense in the first quarter, and in the early goings it was clear the Knicks intended to match the Hawks’ explosive offense. Midway through the first, Randle had 10 points on 4-5 shooting, the Knicks as a team were shooting 61% from the field, and Mitchell Robinson was guarding the paint like a security guard at a Sherwin-Williams manufacturing facility.
Suddenly, an RJ Barrett slam dunk put the Knicks up double digits. Pandemic parade plans were being drawn up.
Late in the first, Austin Rivers and Kevin Knox entered the game, and the momentum instantaneously shifted. The Hawks immediately went on one of what would become many mini runs. In almost no time at all, the 10-point lead was erased, and with two minutes to go in the opening period, Thibs called timeout. Presumably, he asked his guys to play better. At the end of the first, the Knicks clung onto a 31-29 lead.
The second quarter was a mostly back-and-forth affair. New York was able to hang tough thanks to hustle and bustle from Robinson, plus more bucket getting from Randle and RJ.
Late in the half, the Hawks caught the Knicks napping, and, after another mini run, went into the break up 58-54. The Hawks soared out of the break, with Trae Young taking control and completely discombobulating the shorthanded Knicks, which only used eight players the whole night. Before long, the Knicks were down by double digits. They looked dejected and tired.
With five minutes to go in the third, the Hawks took their largest lead of the game, and the conclusion of the evening’s festivities felt all but certain. In what might be becoming a trend, however, the Knicks had other ideas. Behind two Kevin Knox threes and the start of some magic from Quickley, New York went on an absolutely glorious run to turn a 15-point deficit into four, and the quarter ended with the Hawks up 88-84.
The fourth was Quickley’s quarter, and it’s really amazing how one quarter of superb play can make otherwise phenomenal performances from Randle and Barrett seem like the secondary story of the night. Two clutch Quickley free throws late the Knicks a 103-101 lead. Then, he drew a foul on Young while shooting a three and sank all the free throws, putting the Knicks up 106-101.
With the game hanging in the balance, Rivers once again stepped up. The son of Doc knocked down a deep ball to put the Knicks up 110-106 with just under a minute and a half to play, and control appeared to be in the hands of the Knicks.
That was true until Reggie Bullock came in at the very end of the fourth and a couple of embarrassing hiccups nearly blew the game. Randle had multiple brain dead turnovers, including a pass to no one when he incorrectly thought Quickley was cutting, and sloppiness led to an attempted save by Reggie Bullock under the basket that hit the back side of the backboard.
In the end, the Knicks pulled it out, coming away with the 113-108 victory. For much of the last 20 years, this gritty outlasting of Atlanta could have been described as an uncharacteristic win for New York. But under Thibs, the tough-nosed play is becoming a trend.
> Randle finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 9 assists, just barely missing his second triple double as a Knick. He also tallied 7 turnovers, meaning he just barely missed his first career quadruple double.
> Overall, Randle was stroking, shooting 11-19 from the field. But he missed each of his five threes.
> So, how about RJ? Barrett put up 26 points (10-19 shooting, 1-5 from deep), 11 boards, 5 assists and 2 steals. It’s his third 20-plus point showing of the young season, and his second straight.
> Alexa, order an Immanuel Quickley jersey, size large please. The 25th pick from this year’s draft continues to astound. While Elfrid Payton played a solid first half, he started to fade as the game went on, and Quickley was just what the doctor ordered. He finished with 16 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in 19 minutes of action.
> Without a true backup center to spell him, Robinson played 28 minutes and notched an interesting stat line of 8 points, 7 boards, 4 steals and 2 blocks. At one point early in the second, he was called for his third foul, but the officials later decided it wasn’t Robinson who committed the foul, so he was downgraded to two fouls.
> Randle played a bunch of backup center, and the Knicks were clearly lacking an inside presence during those minutes.
> The Knicks continue to regress from deep. On Tuesday, they shot a combined 7-21 (33%) from behind the arc. The Hawks took 10 more threes than the Knicks, but only hit three more, finishing 10-31.
But who’s here to talk about regression? This was a night of progression. Walt Clyde Phraser said exactly what we’re all thinking: ‘Quickley quickly becoming my favorite Knickley.’
The Knicks now travel back home for a match against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at 7:30. The Jazz are good. It’ll be a great test of where this team is at. Here’s hoping some of our injured bodies magically heal in the next two days.