After a game in front of the fans for the first time in nearly a year that resulted in a disappointing loss, what is the best cure? How about a date with the worst defensive team in the league? It was just what the doctor ordered for the New York Knicks who produced their highest scoring half and game of the season against the Houdini-like Sacramento defense, trouncing the Kings 140-121 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The loss was the ninth straight for the Kings (12-20).
New York (16-17) could not have scripted a better start. Right from the opening tip scoring against the Kings was as easy as slicing butter with a scorching hot knife. The Knicks shot 16-for-23 in the first quarter. Derrick Rose, replacing the injured Elfrid Payton in the starting lineup, connected on his first six shots and scored 11 points in the stanza. Immanuel Quickley came off the bench and broke out of his shooting slump. There was even a Frank Ntilikina siting as the Knicks led 38-29 after a quarter.
Sacramento managed to slice the margin to 43-40 early in the second. The Knicks however were able to recover with Quickley providing the spark. The rookie from Kentucky who has struggled lately completed a four-point play, nailed a couple of three-pointers and was perfect from the charity stripe to score 18 points in nine minutes after going 3-for-22 in the last two games. The crowd began chanting “We want Quickley” before the young sensation hit the floor, and when he did he rewarded his suitors with a spectacular show.
“I heard it on the bench,’’ Quickley said of the Garden faithful serenading him. “It was kind of funny. I was laughing under my mask so nobody can see my expression. It was pretty cool to have the whole crowd behind you and back you up like that. I try never to get too high or low.”
“He’s real clever,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of Quickley. “He studies how he’s being guarded. He’s such a great free-throw shooter we want as many as we can get. There’s ups and downs. He’s managed that extremely well. He’s a great shooter, has an ability to draw fouls. Everyone has a ton of confidence in him. We know he’s got a lot of confidence in himself. It starts with preparation. He’s a gym rat and student of the game.”
Ntilikina even joined the act connectng on his own trey and flashing his patented defense by drawing a charge. It was the first action for the former lottery selection fromFrance since Dec. 29.
“(Hearing the fans) chant ‘MVP’ for some of our players (feels) just amazing,” Ntilikina said about the crowd, which also revived the franchise’s iconic ‘Dee-fense’ chant. “Just to feel that energy again and them chanting ‘Dee-fense,’ that’s huge. That’s huge.”
Back to back three-pointers by Reggie Bullock and another one from Julius Randle gave New York their biggest lead of the half at 77-60. A pair of De’Aaron Fox free throws ended the half at 77-62. The Knicks shot 66% from the field and 53% from behind the arc in the first 24 minutes. They also made 10 out of 10 free throws.
Defense continued to be a mere illusion in the second half. New York led 90-72, but a 10-2 run capped by a Fox three-point play reduced the Knicks lead to 92-82. The Knicks went back up 97-84, but an 8-0 Sacramento spurt made it 97-92 with less than two minutes to play in the quarter. The lead extended back to nine, but a Fox bucket as time expired brought the score to 101-94 heading to the fourth.
The Kings stayed within striking distance for the opening minutes of the final quarter, but the Knicks eventually blew the game open. After a pair of foul shots by Quickley have a charge call against him was challenged by Thibodeau, Alec Burks connected on three consecutive treys as New York took the wind out of the Sacramento sails at 121-101 with 7:15 to go.
Sacramento had one last gasp left in them as they scored seven consecutive points to cut the deficit to 121-101, but another pair of 3-pointers from Burks and one from Taj Gibson ignited an 11-0 stretch that secured the New York win. Burks finished with 19 points in the quarter.
New York ended the night 18 of 35 for 53% from 3-point range and shot 59% overall.
Quickley led six Knicks in double-digits with 25 points. Burks added 24 and Randle 21. Rose fnished with 18, RJ Barrett 12 and Bullock 10.
For Sacramento, Fox had outstanding performance with 29 points. Harrison Barnes chipped in 22. Marvin Bagley III had 19 and rookie Tyrese Haliburton 17.
Yet again the Knicks will look to achieve the .500 mark when they host Indiana at the Garden Saturday night.
(AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)
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