Playing on their home court hasn’t been advantageous to the Knicks this season. Their 105-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night was just their sixth in 16 games at Madison Square Garden. Gaining wins in general has been far more laborious for the Knicks than last season, when they finished the regular season 41-31 and the No. 4 seed in the East.
Tuesday marked only the second in their last seven games, and moved them to 14-17 before hosting the Washington Wizards at the Garden tonight. The Knicks were last in the Atlantic Division and 12th overall in the Eastern Conference.
“A lot of credit to all of the guys because there are a lot of moving parts right now and to find a way to win is the most important thing,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau after his team held the Pistons to 37 points in the first half and 36.2% shooting over the full four quarters.
“I thought that Julius [Randle] was playing tough when he wasn’t feeling his best and Kemba [Walker] was making plays. I thought that Alec [Burks] played some big minutes and you can’t say enough about what Mitch [Mitchell Robinson] did. I thought that was his best game right there, that is a monster game with big play after big play. I also don’t want to overlook what Taj [Gibson] did, sometimes playing the three, four and even the five, those were big minutes. Kemba made big shots down the stretch and we needed all of it.”
Robinson, whose production has been inconsistent this season, had 17 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes off of the bench. Walker’s resurgence continued as he contributed 21 points, seven assists and eight rebounds starting at point guard. On Nov. 29, Thibodeau stated he had removed the 31-year-old veteran from the rotation, assessing his impact to be below expectations when he was signed to a two-year, $17.89 million contract in August. Walker was replaced on the first unit by Alec Burks and didn’t play for the next 10 games. He had been a starter for the Knicks’ first 18 games.
With several Knicks sidelined, he was back in a starting role versus the Boston Celtics last Saturday and resiliently responded with 29 points and six rebounds in a 114-107 loss at the Garden. ”I know I should be playing,” asserted Walker following logging 37 minutes against his former team.
“But whatever situation I’m in, I’m gonna stay locked in, stay prepared,” he said. “Whatever the team needs from me, I’ll be there for them… I can’t say it enough. Whatever’s asked of me, that’s what I’m here for.”
“To me, I have to base everything on what players are doing right now, so whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to be in there,” said Thibodeau on Tuesday regarding Walker’s situation. “Performance matters, if you are playing well, you are going to be in there and I love Kemba. My job is to do what is best for the team, so he is playing great basketball and all the credit in the world goes to him…”
Like so many teams around the NBA, the Knicks are having to manage multiple players being placed in the league’s health and safety protocols. A global surge in new COVID-19 cases, primarily caused by the Omicron variant, has influenced players availability and scheduling, as games involving multiple teams have been postponed over the past 10 days.
The Knicks, who are scheduled to play the Atlanta Hawks at the Garden on Saturday at 12 p.m. in a Christmas Day match up, were without RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Kevin Knox, Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride against the Pistons as all were in health and safety protocols. Derrick Rose could not play for the second straight game as he is recovering from a sore right ankle.
After Saturday, the Knicks, with a record of 8-7 away from MSG, will begin a four-game, six-day road trip in Minnesota next Tuesday versus the Timberwolves.