For the average New York sports fan, it was the night of the Yankees-Red Sox Wild Card Game. For the insane Knicks fan, it was an even more important night: the preseason opener. While the preseason doesn’t mean much, it’s hard not to let the early action moments confirm your hopes or fears.
In the first moments, doubts set in. 4-0 behind, Randle aired an open angle three in the air. Maybe last year was a fluke after all?
From then on, there was unbridled optimism – every dream about how improved this team will be all came true. The Knicks looked as they should have been: a team that is almost fully returning, plus two new major additions that should fit like a glove.
Fresh-faced Kemba Walker returned to make his first basket as Knick, and his smile to celebrate in his hometown of Garden was infectious.
Moments later, Walker gave the Knicks another missing moment from the starting position and found RJ Barrett for a smooth transition three. A step-back jumper from Walker and a crooked three-pointer from other newcomer Evan Fournier led the Knicks 12-6. After a jumper from Randle, even veteran Taj Gibson came in on the three-point jump-off with a smooth corner three as if he had done it countless times before.
The ageless Gibson started in place of Nerlens Noel, who was resting, and Mitchell Robinson, who was still coming back from injury, and finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a game-high +22 in just 21 minutes.
After a smart and one floater from Fournier followed by a three-point error, the Knicks had a 25-16 lead.
With the depletion of the centers, unwritten Jericho Sims came in and continued his great Summer League play, immediately finishing an alley-oop layup to put the Knicks at 27-16.
Sims had some rookie moments, getting out of position in defense, but he was also in the right place for three offensive rebounds and lobs to take him to 8 points, six total rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.
The bench picked up where the starters left off, with beautiful passes and scores from veterans Rose and Burks and sophomores Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley giving the Knicks a 36-26 lead at the end of the quarter.
The star game continued. Quickley continued to find a more confident Toppin, taking down a midrange jumper and fast-break slam.
The starters kept moving, each scoring double digits in their first side-by-side game, led by 20 points from Randle and 17 from RJ.
The half was capped off by a noted superheroism of Julius Randle taking down an embattled jumper to give the Knicks a 67-55 lead at halftime, much to the delight of the preseason electric crowd.
The great play continued into the second half, thanks to Thibodeau’s typical stifling defensive scheme, with the Pacers having just 49 points on 17-41 shots.
The starters dominated most of the third quarter, continuing to score at will and developing chemistry. A no-look dime from Walker to Sims for a slam made it an 84-59 ball game with just under 7 minutes left in the quarter.
At the end of the third inning, the Knicks were 101-181, a fine score for a final result, let alone a game with a quarter to play.
With the game out of reach, the fourth quarter was for the youth. Immanuel Quickley had six points and four assists, bringing him to 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the game, despite shooting just 4-10 off the field. Similarly, Toppin only shot 4-10, but demonstrated a beautiful self-created spin move for a layup he couldn’t have dreamed of last season.
To close out the game, the rookies were allowed to check in Miles McBride and Quentin Grimes, much to the delight of an MSG crowd that had sung to “Deuce.” But it was the eternally young Kevin Knox who stole the show in just four minutes, four points behind the ring.
An assist from Quickley to Aamir Simms capped off a stunning game played without two of their coveted centers.
It’s only preseason, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a joy to watch that performance. As P&T’er Grin and Barrett pointed out, it looks like the Knicks have a roster that’s deep in two-way hoops.