On a night when they honored their last championship team of 50 years ago, the Knicks literally coasted to a 128-106 win over the less than enthusiastic New Orleans Pelicans last night at Madison Square Garden for their fifth win in a row.
The win capped off a very successful weekend for the Knicks (35-27) who came into the game having polished off the Washington Wizards on the road with a 115-109 win Friday night. “We knew we had the challenge coming off the break, we knew that before we went to break. I think, mentally we were prepared for it,” Julius Randle said after another terrific game.
Randle led the Knicks with 28 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Jalen Brunson had an off night but still scored 20 points. Mitchell Robinson made his presence felt with 11 points and 13 rebounds but, what was most encouraging was R.J. Barrett’s game.
Barrett, who had been struggling coming in and was on the bench in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s win over Washington, scored 25 points on 8 of 13 shooting, including 4 of 7 from three. The 22-year old also had four rebounds and seven assists in one of his most consistent games of the entire season.
“I just started out aggressive and made the right plays and honestly guys made shots,” Barrett said after the game.
Because the game was so one sided, the more compelling storyline came at halftime when the Knicks honored their 1973 and last championship team.
Bill Bradley, Jerry Lucas, Henry Bibby, Dick Barnett, and of course, Earl Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier represented that team that avenged their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals the prior year. A number of players who had passed were represented by their children including Dave DeBusschere’s and Dean Meminger’s sons.
The Knicks also honored their history by having some of their more impactful players from other eras on hand. (Not that these players don’t deserve to be honored, but I found this to be a little head scratching because it kinda took away from the real honorees of the night)
That list included Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby from the 1999 team that went to the NBA Finals. Amare Stoudemire was on hand, Willis Reed appeared in a video as did Patrick Ewing, who represented the 1994 team and the 1999 team. John Starks from the ‘94 team was also introduced but where was Charles Oakley?
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you can figure out the answer for yourself. Put it this way, you’d have a better chance of finding Waldo, rather than Oakley at the Garden.
The ceremonies featured a video tribute (that appeared to be more of a tribute to the era instead of the team) on the huge Jumbotron and the introductions of the honorees.
The current Knicks played a fitting first half as they matched the championship year by scoring 73 points and led by 21 at halftime, but the most impressive part of this game was that they didn’t let up and allow a lethargic Pelicans team to get back in it, something that the Knicks were determined to execute. “That’s pretty cool [on irony of scoring 73 in the first half], especially at home, you want to get off to good starts and we did that today and sustained it.”
This was probably the Knicks’ most complete game of the season. It’s no coincidence that it came on a night where we were reminded of how exciting it can be when the Knicks are a championship contender.
“They’re [‘73 team] legends, it’s very inspirational the way that, especially the way they were able to bring a championship back to New York,” Barrett said. “That’s something that we’re trying to do.”
Things were going so well that Coach Tom Thibodeau was able to spread out the minutes. Josh Hart and Immanuel Quickley combined for 28 points off the bench and to the delight of the sellout crowd, Derrick Rose got some run in the final two and half minutes.
The Knicks, who have won 7 of 8 and 10 of their last 14, are two and a half games ahead of Miami for sixth in the East. They trail the Nets by a game and a half for fifth and the fourth place Cleveland Cavaliers by two and a half games.
Up next, a big test as the Celtics come to town Monday night. The Knicks won the last meeting in Boston in late January, so the East leaders will be looking for some payback.
Things are getting interesting at the corner of 33rd and 8th.