A win is a win. You don’t give it back and the Knicks will take it, but, last night, they nearly blew an 18 point, fourth quarter lead and hung on for a 107-103 win over the Bulls in the second of a back-to-back in Chicago. “In every game there’s something you do well and other things, you don’t do as well as you would like,” coach Tom Thibodeau said on the post game Zoom call.
The Knicks did a number of things well for the first three quarters as they took a 91-76 lead. An Austin Rivers three in the first minute of the fourth quarter boosted the lead to 94-76, but the offense went south with the second unit on the floor and the Bulls went on a 20-5 run to cut the lead to three with less than six minutes remaining.
At this point, Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock stepped up and gave the Knicks some much needed veteran leadership and arguably the biggest bucket of the game. The Bulls got the ball back and had a chance to cut the lead to one or tie. With RJ Barrett hounding him, Denzel Valentine made his way to the right of the lane for a short turnaround but he missed. Randle got the ball in the front court and drove the left side of the lane. The Bulls double teamed Randle and that left Bullock wide open in the left corner, where he canned a huge three pointer to put the Knicks back up by six.
Randle scored 27 points and was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc. He also had six rebounds and six assists and was solid defensively, but Randle was more than the stat sheet. The 26-year old was already playing at an All Star level but last night, the Knicks saw him take his leadership skills to another level. “That’s what we expect from him, Thibodeau said “A veteran leader, plays strong on both sides of the ball. Share the ball, make the right plays, set an example for everyone as to how you’re gonna work. You give the team the belief that you can win.”
Elfrid Payton played one of his best games as a Knick, which is frustrating in itself, because of his inconsistent play. Payton scored 20 points with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. The Knicks go into each game wondering which Elfrid Payton is going to hit the floor, but the coach has his back. “Elfrid’s strengths are defense, running the team, being an opportunistic scorer,” Thibodeau said.
Barrett scored 17 points but he had a poor fourth quarter. The 20-year old is still susceptible to turnovers but you have to like the way he’s attacking the basket. Early in the season, Barrett seemed to be letting the narrative about his poor shooting get in the way of his game. Now, he’s been more aggressive, he’s using both hands on the dribble and it’s opened the floor for him as defenders have to respect his ability to get to the rim
Payton is more suited as a back up point guard, but Thibodeau will not give the reins to Immanuel Quickley just yet.
Quickley played only 13 minutes but he hit a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter to help the Knicks stave off the Bulls run temporarily. Obi Toppin played 10 minutes and had 5 points while Alec Burks, who was signed as a shooter, was 1 for 5 and has not been impressive since he’s returned to the lineup.
With all these good tidings, why did the Knicks have to sweat it out down the stretch.
Thibodeau referred to one factor when he made this cryptic comment. “Closing out the quarter, I want us to do better with that,” he said. The Knicks do not finish a quarter strong. A prime example of that came at the end of the second quarter.
The Knicks were up 63-48 with a little over 30 seconds left, but Thaddeus Young canned a bucket and was fouled by Robinson. Luckily, Young missed the foul shot and Chicago’s Coby White took an ill advised foul with :07 left. Barrett inbounded the ball from side out but, inexplicably, he forced a pass at the near sideline, instead of throwing it to a wide open Robinson. The Bulls stole the ball and Young scored on a driving lay up as the quarter ended. Those are the kind of sequences that can cost you games, even when it’s happens at the end of the half.
To their credit, the Knicks shook off that lapse and retook control of the game in the third quarter, but 7 of their 17 turnovers came in the fourth quarter and nearly cost them the game.
The Knicks are 10-13 and, if the season ended today, their 9th place standing would have them in the playoffs. Things are bunched up in the East and the Knicks are only a game behind the 6th place Atlanta Hawks.
There is lots of work ahead for Thibodeau and his staff, but this Knicks team gives you hope and unlike recent years when they were non competitive every night, they have become an interesting watch.
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