It sure didn’t look promising early. The New York Knicks got off to a lethargic start with their starting five looking like they were mired in quicksand. Enter Immanuel Quickley and Austin Rivers. The rookie sensation and crafty veteran gave New York a spark off the bench as the Knicks pulled away to defeat Cleveland 102-81 Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The win snaps a three game losing skid for the Knicks.
Neither team was exactly setting the nets on fire in the opening minutes. New York (9-11) took over four minutes to score their first field goal. The Cavaliers (9-10) however were able to carve out a 13-3 lead. With the Knicks continuning to struggle to score the ball coach Tom Thibodeau inserted Quickley and Rivers into the fray. In what seemed like the blink of the eye New York grabbed a 16-15 advantage. When all was said and done the backcourt duo had spurred a 16-4 run that gave the Knicks a 19-16 lead after the first.
After the game Thibodeau would still not commit to starting the first round 25th pick out of Kentucky, but that doesn’t bother Quickley. He is just glad his coach already has confidence in him during key moments.
“It says a lot. You always want to have trust between a player and a coach,” said Quickley. “If a coach trusts you that means you put in the work and you’ve worked hard. I feel like I’ve done that and will continue to do that. Continue to earn the coaches’ trust, not only [Thibodeau], but the whole coaching staff and my teammates, I’ll continue to do that.”
New York rode the momentum created by Quickley and Rivers into the second quarter. With a nine point lead, Elfrid Payton served RJ Barrett a gorgeous backdoor pass for a layup. Then Julius Randle penetrated and dished to Barrett for a corner three-pointer. The Knicks capped the half with a 9-0 run to lead 47-33 at the break.
If there were any thoughts of a Cleveland second half comback, they were put to rest by Quickley. The dazzling youngster drove baseline for a two-hand slam for the highlight film play of the third quarter. Quickley also connected on a late trey as the Knicks closed the stanza on a 12-1 run to extend their advantage to 72-55.
Quickley still had something more in store for the Cavaliers in the fourth. The apparent steal of the 2020 NBA draft scored 14 points in the final frame, including the first 4-point play of the season for his team. The lead ballooned to over 20 in the fourth as New York pulled away for a victory they were desparate for.
New York’s suffocating defense, which is becoming the team’s calling card under Thibodeau, was also an important factor. The last time the two teams faced off center Andre Drummond had 33 points and 23 rebounds. This time around Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel held the Cavaliers big man to just four points, although he did manage 15 boards.
Cleveland was held to 33 points in the first half and just 55 after three quarters. That is especially impressive considering the Cavaliers had recently scored 147 points in a two game sweep of Brooklyn.
Quickley finished the contest with 25 points on 5 for 8 shooting from behind the arc. He added five rebounds and three assists.
After one fourth quarter 3-pointer, where he was foulded on the shot, Quickley dropped face down to the floor and celebrated with a swimmng motion.
“I was just having fun, that’s all,” Quickley said. “We were in the cold tub and [Rivers] was like, ‘what was that?’ I was like, ‘I can’t explain it,’ bro, I don’t know what I was doing to be honest. I think I’ve seen Steph [Curry] do it one time. But other than that it was just in the moment I was having fun.”
Barrett also had an outsanding game for the Knicks as his star continues to rise. The second-year man out of Duke finished with 24 points. Julius Randle finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists despite a quiet first half. Rivers added 13 off the bench, mostly coming in the first quarter when he help New York seize control.
The Knicks will be back at it on Sunday at home when they host the Los Angelas Clippers. Tip off is scheduled for 1 p.m.
(Elsa/Pool Photo via AP)