The stage was certainly set for the Knicks to have a let down. Playing on the road against a Detroit team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. The second game of a back to back. Coming off of an emotional win to reach the .500 mark 34 hours earlier. Fans had seen this before. In the past this has been the type of game the Knicks would squander. However, this Tom Thibodeau Knicks team is not the Knicks team people have become accustomed to.
New York shook off a slow start and used their defense to shut down Detroit (9-25) until the offense kicked into gear in a 109-90 blow out of the Pistons. The win represents the latest the Knicks have been over .500 in a season since the 54-win season of 2012-13. They have have finished with a winning record just three times in the past 20 years, the worst stretch in their history.
“It’s a proud organization and I was here during the 90s but that doesn’t have anything to do with today,’’ said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, a former assistant in the 1990s. “So just like I wasn’t looking ahead I don’t want us looking behind and what happened in the past. I think it’s important to know the history of the organization, but our focus has to be exactly on what’s in front of us.’’
Rising star Julius Randle believes that even though the rest of the league may be surprised by the team’s success, the players in the locker room are not.
“The reaction to the winning record, honestly in our locker room it’s expected,’’ said Randle, who racked up his usual gemstone numbers of 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. “I said all year, we feel like every time we go out we have a chance to win the game. I’m not really surprised where we’re at as a team. We have a certain level of focus on a night-to-night basis that gives us a shot every night.’’
The next up mentality was once again in play. The Knicks got about strong effort at both ends of the floor from Nerlens Noel. They are 6-2 with Noel starting at center since a hand injury to Mitchell Robinson. With Elfrid Payton ailing with a hamstring issue New York is 3-0 with Derrick Rose in the first five.
The Knicks shot just 36% from the field in the first half, but they made up for it in other ways. First of all, New York made 8 of 16 attempts from behind the three-point arc. Impressive for a team not known for their prowess with the deep ball. Secondly, the defense led by Noel was dominating. Noel blocked three shots and altered several others in the first half alone. Detroit only managed to shoot 31% from the field and 27% from downtown in the opening 24 minutes.
It took awhile for New York to put some distance betwen themselves and the Pistons. The Knicks led 10-3 early, but Detroit put together a 7-0 run to to get back even. Even with being hampered by their shooting woes the Knicks managed to lead 25-20 after a quarter and 48-37 at the half. Had it not been for a couple of late turnpovers by New York the gap could have been much wider.
After a relatively quiet first half, Randle started to impose his will in the third quarter. Randle scored 12 points in the stanza as New York began to widen the gap. After a three-pointer from Reggie Bullock and a beautiful touch pass from Rose to Noel for a dunk the Knicks led 74-53. The Pistons closed to within 16, but the Knicks used a 7-0 spurt to push the margin to 23. New York led 83-64 after three quarters.
After not being a factor in the first half Immanuel Quickley joined the party in the fourth. The explosive rookie was 0-for-5 from the field in the first 24 minutes and didn’t see the floor in the third. However, Quickley helped the Knicks put the game out of reach with 10 points during a short stint in the final frame. He scored on a couple drives into the lane and drilled a pair of three-pointers as New York ran away from the Pistons for good.
Randle, the first-time NBA All-Star, along with Barrett are becoming the star combination that New York fans have been yearning to find for a decade. Randle poured in 25 points and was superb from beyond the arc where the Knicks shot 50%. He also contributed eight rebounds and six assists. Barrett added 21 points.
Burks had another stellar game leading the Knicks second unit with 16 points. Rose ended the night with 14 and Quickley 12.
The Knicks now close out the first half of the season before the All-Star break with games at San Antonio Tuesday night and home against Detroit on Thursday.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)