Defense, rebounding, ball movement and player movement. These are fundamental winning basketball principles Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has emphasized, repeated and made an imperative for his team to succeed. Time will tell if the Knicks sustain playing with the cohesion and sense of purpose they have displayed in besting eight straight opponents and raising their record to 18-13 before hosting the Tornto Raptors at Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday), but the eye test as much as the raw numbers reveal an improved squad.
Yes, some of the teams the Knicks have defeated, such as their 132-94 dismantling of the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night at MSG, have been depleted. The Warriors were without Steph Curry (shoulder injury) and Andrew Wiggins (oblique). Still, a key indicator of a team that will ultimately make it to the postseason is consistently beating inferior teams, regardless of the circumstances, including injuries, that are the cause of weaknesses.
“I think with anything, when you see something working you want to repeat it as much as possible,” said Knicks forward Julius Randle. The forward had 15 points and 12 rebounds in a game in which the Knicks had multiple impactful contributions. Immanuel Quickley scored 22 points off of the bench, point-guard Jalen Brunson had 21, starting two-guard Quentin Grimes dropped 19 and RJ Barrett 18.
Heading into last night, the Knicks owned the longest active winning streak in the NBA.
“No one has talked about the streak at all,” said Brunson. “Obviously, we tell each other to keep it rolling. But we’re just trying to be the best team we can be and just focus on one day at a time.”
Brunson’s words may read like a cliche, but the Knicks have demonstrated that philosophy. There will naturally be stretches of more losses than victories, and adversity in the weeks and months ahead. That is why stacking wins right now is essential and will pay dividends in the Knicks’ goal of being a playoff team. It will require a continued collective effort as the Knicks, who have Randle and Brunson operating at an All-Star level, still lack a transcendent superstar.
“We have a lot of players on this team who are capable of having monster games,” noted Brunson. “It’s not surprising when someone like ‘Quick’ [Immanuel Quickley] plays that way or ‘Q’ [Quentin Grimes] having that type of game or even ‘Deuce’ [McBride] getting double figures. When they do it, it’s definitely a plus.”
The Knicks will next face the Chicago Bulls at the Garden tomorrow and the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas Day, then go to Texas to play the Dallas Mavericks next Tuesday, the San Antonio Spurs next Thursday and the Houston Rockets New Year’s Eve.