In car racing there is an old saying about engines. They run best right before they blow. That phrase came to mind Friday night while watching Mitchell Robinson play for the New York Knicks. The 22 year old big man scored 10 points and pulled down 14 first half rebounds. Robinson had been playing some of the best basketball of his young career. After the strong start, disaster struck. Robinson walked off the Madison Square Garden floor and did not return. The Knicks announced the news that Robinson had fractured his right hand later in the evening.
Despite suffering a blow that could prove costly to their playoff chances, New York shook off a pesky Washington Wizards (6-17) team in a 109-91 win. The lopsided victory ended a two-game losing streak for the Knicks (12-15).
“It was probably the best half of the year for him. We know how important he is to the team,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Any time someone gets hurt, you certainly feel for him. He’s got a fracture, so we don’t how long he’ll be out. He’ll be examined further [Saturday] and then we’ll have more information.”
While the Knicks built a 30-23 lead first quarter cushion, Robinson rattled the rim with four dunks as he scored eight points and collected even boards.
Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley sparked the Knicks in the second quarter. The new dynamic Knicks’ duo combined for six points and Rose fed Obi Toppin for a slam to increase New York’s advantage to 40-31. Next, Rose found Julius Randle with a pretty assist that the Knicks leading scorer jammed home to make it 45-34. New York took a 53-42 edge into halftime.
“I thought we got off to a good start and then we got sloppy for a bit. I thought our bench gave us great minutes in the first half. Sort of, we got control there,” Thibodeau said. “We didn’t close the second quarter well, and the third was a little choppy. And the bench came in again, and sort of got us going again.”
In the third, the Wizards tried to take advantage of Robinson’s absence. A 13-5 spurt to by Washington cut the New York lead to 58-55. The Knicks however responded with a 9-0 run fueled by a late three-pointer from Randle to lead 79-64 heading to the fourth quarter. Consequently, New York was never challenged again.
Once again Randle led the Knicks with 24 points18 rebounds and four assists. Quickley and Rose combined to chip in 30 points. Quickley finished with 16 points and Rose 14. Elfrid Payton added 12.
Toppin continued to show improvement after a disappointing start to his rookie campaign. The eighth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft scored eight points. Toppin seems to be benefitting from hitting the court with Rose on the second unit. In addition, Toppin may be asked to take on a larger role while Robinson is out. Thibodeau suggested the Knicks may “go small” more with Randle at the five and Toppin at the four.
Meanwhile, with leading scorer Bradley Beal resting, the Wizards’ Russell Westbrook finished one rebound short of a triple-double with 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Garrison Matthews scored 14 points for Washington. Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura had 10 points each.
The Knicks now have to figure out how to proeceed without Robinson. Therefore, Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson may be asked to step up. Potentially, the team could choose to go out and add a post player to the roster.
“It definitely will be tough without him,” Randle said. “He brings so much to the game, especially on the defensive end with his rebounding.”
New York will be right back in action tonight at the Garden against the Houston Rockets. Game time is 8 p.m. as the Knicks look to make it two wins in a row and move closer to the .500 mark.
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)