The Knicks get their latest best win of the season when they needed it the most.
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Game 68: Knicks 106, Clippers 100 - “We HERE.”
⌚️ Quick Recap: After falling behind 10-0, the Knicks played arguably their most compete game of the season at both ends of the floor, overcoming a subpar shooting game (until it mattered most) from Julius Randle, rallying behind a vintage performance from Derrick Rose and some incredibly stout defense to notch perhaps their signature win of 2021.
😲 Meaningful W: We have to take a second to appreciate how big this was, considering all the factors at play:
The Knicks had dropped two straight against league-powerhouses, and had to be wondering if they simply didn’t have what it took to defeat the big boys.
All the feel-good juju that had built up over 65 games was starting to circle the drain.
That may seem extreme after just two losses, both to great teams, especially with each one containing three quarters of solid play. But a loss to the Clips would have placed all sorts of pressure on Tuesday’s possible date with LeBron. Lose that, and they might have been looking at needing to sweep the final home stand just to avoid the play-in. Now, one more win combined with one more Boston loss gets them into the dance.
The Clips had their big guns and were almost fully healthy, missing only Serge Ibaka, who hasn’t played in nearly to months.
The Knicks, meanwhile, were without both Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks, not to mention Mitchell Robinson, whose absence had been felt heavily as New York struggled to defend the paint in both Denver and Phoenix.
This was on the road, where New York was just 15-19 heading into yesterday.
National TV game. Can’t discount that.
One more time for emphasis: they needed this one in the worst way, as much as they’ve needed any game since the last time they were in the postseason.
With all that on their shoulders, the Knicks made every big play down the stretch, never letting the lead dip below five after the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter until the game was effectively decided.
😳 Tom Thibodeau Dunk of the Night: Let me start by saying that I adore and respect Marc Berman, who has gone out of his way to show me the ropes of the media game and is a damn fine reporter and beat writer. He’s the man.
But sometimes you posterize, and sometimes you get put on a poster:
More importantly, Thibs’ point is a salient one.
No, Julius Randle didn’t have his best shooting night, hitting just 7-of-19 for 14 points, but his shots were the right ones to take in the moment, and anytime he got a sliver of daylight to put the ball on floor, he hit pay dirt every time:
Then, with the score tightening late and the Knicks just needing someone to get them some buckets, Randle hit three jumpers in the last three minutes in what turned out to be New York’s final three field goals of the game.
14 boards, five dimes, and there when they needed him most. Not a bad game at all.
🔢 Stat Central: This is the second lowest point total the Clippers have been held to in a home game this season in which both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have played, and the fourth lowest point total overall in a game featuring both of LA’s stars.
🏆 Key Stretch of the Game: The Knicks pushed the lead to 10 late in the third, but a 7-0 Clippers run felt like the beginning of a “let’s look at the bright side of another loss to a better team” sort of conclusion.
Then, over the next four minutes, two Knicks with an unlikely chemistry combined to help steady the ship enough so Julius could bring it into the dock:
That’s the first of two threes in just over three minutes by Derrick Rose, who just like we all expected, is hitting 41 percent from downtown as a Knick, including 12 of his last 18.
More on Rose in a bit, but just as important here was his bench partner in crime, Obi Toppin, who also had a couple buckets during this pivotal stretch, the second one thanks to a beautiful feed from Taj Gibson:
Slowly but surely, Toppin is starting to turn into exactly what Leon Rose drafted him to be: a weapon. He also had another quick release corner three in this game - a shot he’s now taking with supreme confidence.
Big minutes from the rook in the biggest of spots.
💫 Stars of the Game 💫
⭐️ Reggie Bullock: This should probably go to Randle, who really was better than his stat line suggested, and is responsible for setting Reggie up for a lot of his threes. That said, it’s tough to deny Bullock after 24 points, including five made triples - the 14th time this season he’s his at least four in a game.
The Knicks are 9-5 in those games, and four of those losses came by single digits. Simply put, when Reggie is firing and profiling, New York is a better team.
It’s also no coincidence that 11 of those 14 games have come after the break. Bullock is attempting three more deep attempts per game since the All-Star game, and is hitting 43 percent in that time, which makes him one of the more dangerous high volume shooters in the league.
His decision to fire when ready every time has become arguably the biggest piece in New York’s second half offensive awakening.
⭐️ ⭐️ RJ Barrett: 207 seconds.
That’s how long RJ Barrett sat for on Sunday, with precisely zero of those seconds coming in the second half.
He has become Thibodeau’s Luol Deng, his Jimmy Butler, and what he surely wished was his Andrew Wiggins: a big, nasty, physical wing who can make life hell for the opposing team’s best guy.
Kawhi Leonard certainly got his, but it took him 26 shots to get his 29 points. Leonard was just 5-for-17 from 2-point range, and Barrett was on him a fair amount of the time.
RJ struggled from inside the arc, and is just 6-of-27 from 2-point range in the last three games, but thanks to his defense, his hot outside shooting (4-of-7 today, 18 points total) and continued playmaking improvement (four assists, more on them tomorrow), he’s finding many different ways to help his team win games.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Derrick Rose: I’ll have some extended thoughts below on Rose, who had 25 points on 17 shots, including a 9-for-10 first half when the Knicks desperately needed it, along with eight assists and six boards.
But first I’d like to point out how incredible it is that throughout this season, we’ve gone through stretches were it seems like someone or another is getting this honor every night. Randle has obviously had the most moments, but RJ has had a bunch, as has Immanuel Quickley, and now it’s Rose’s turn.
That’s one of the things that makes this team so special. It’s not just one or two guys stepping up. It’s everyone taking turns in the spotlight - often, it seems, at the exact moment their teammates need it the most.
Is Rose’s star (re)turn the most audacious of the group? Why that depends on how you look at it. More on that below, but first…
📈 Standings Check In 📉
Thanks to New York’s win and the Celtics’ home loss to the Heat, the Knicks’ magic number for a top-six seed is two. Boston plays Miami again on Tuesday, and it’s tough to have a definitive rooting interest given the different permutations still in play.
Key Games Tonight: Washington visits Atlanta but will be without Bradley Beal, who will miss the game with a hamstring strain.
🗣 News & Notes ✍️
🏀 It looks like the Luca Vildoza show will not be commencing until next season. Thibs said before the game on Friday that evaluating Luca will be a “summer thing,” all but confirming he won’t be joining the team for its stretch run.
🏀 Immanual Quickley and Alec Burks both missed this one. Thibs said both are improving though and didn’t rule out a return on Tuesday.
🏀 Finally, we got some behind the scenes footage from Julius Randle & RJ Barrett’s SLAM cover shoot. The whole thing is worth a watch, but most notable is the fact that the two have sat next to each other on the team plane since the beginning of Barrett’s rookie year, throwing water on the notion that the pair didn’t get along last season.
Don’t Call it a Comeback
When Phil Jackson traded José Calderón, Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez for Derrick Rose nearly five years ago, even though the price was minimal, red flags went up almost immediately.
The Knicks, quite clearly, were not good. They were coming off a 50-loss season and the signs were clear as day that a rebuild was in order. Kristaps Porzingis was the future of the team, Carmelo Anthony was not, and every move that catered to the timeline of the latter at the expense of the former was misguided.
For Rose himself, the fit was just as bad. He was struggling to figure out how to be a former MVP without the tools that made him so valuable to begin with. That exploration was tough enough on its own; to attempt it on a team that didn’t know what it wanted to be on offense, let alone which direction it was going as a franchise, was unfair from the jump.
Wrong player, wrong team, wrong time.
Sure enough, the plug was pulled after just a year. The man that traded for him was fired, and the franchise continued to meander its way through the fog with an aimlessness that would eventually get Phil Jackson’s successor canned as well.
For Rose, he continued to bounce around the NBA. First he landed with LeBron, whose five-year run of Most Valuable Dominance he rudely interrupted. After that didn’t work out and he was dealt to Utah, the Jazz decided he couldn’t help their playoff push and simply cut him.
Seven months shy of his 30th birthday and less than seven years removed from his MVP win, everyone in the NBA jointly told Derrick Rose the same thing: you’re washed.
Everyone except for one man, that is.
Rose didn’t play much for his old coach in that initial Minnesota season - a little over 100 minutes over nine regular season games in which he shot it worse than at any other point in his career.
But when the Wolves got to their first playoff series in 14 seasons, Tom Thibodeau knew he could go back to that familiar well and be rewarded. In their lone playoff series, Rose nearly led Minnesota in scoring and shot it more efficiently than anyone on the team save for another old pal, Taj Gibson.
The next season, he’d average 18 points with the most efficient shooting numbers of his career, but thanks to the team falling into disarray before the first game of the season, it didn’t have quite the impact you’d expect. Ditto for Rose’s time in Detroit, which ultimately led to the re-reunion that now sees the Chicago product playing the most important post-ACL basketball of his career.
That might seem like a stretch considering this is the same man who helped take the Bulls to six-games against LeBron James and the Cavs in the East semis in 2015, but it was clear as day that by that postseason that Chicago had run its course. Thibs was being ushered out, and soon afterwards, so would Rose.
Despite the fact that Rose is now six years older, he has become an integral part of a Knicks season that doesn’t represent the end of something, but merely the beginning.
Special teams always seem to get unexpected contributions from the unlikeliest of sources. The irony here is that despite his former status as the league’s top dog, what Rose is doing right now is more unexpected than anyone. More than Randle taking a star turn, more than RJ channeling his inner Jimmy, more than Reggie becoming Mr. Automatic…more than any of them, it is Rose who is doing more than turning back the clock; he’s rewriting history.
It’s not that we thought he couldn’t still play. There’s a reason the trade that brought him here was viewed with cautious optimism at the time, and that’s even aside from the shortcomings of the man whose minutes he’s largely taken.
But this? To this level? Rose has averaged 21 points with a 73.1 effective field goal percentage over his last five games, which is secondin the league among 44 players who have averaged at least 20 in that time. He is creating almost all of this offense out of thin air for a team desperate for a creator to ease some of Julius Randle’s ungodly burden.
Thanks to Rose, the Knicks have gone from cute story to legitimate problem - a team that no one seems particularly excited to face anytime soon. He is no longer the most valuable player in the game, but for long stretches of massively important play, he is without question the most valuable player New York has.
Right player. Right Team. Right time.
And of course, the right coach - one who never wavered in his belief that greatness has no expiration date. That it perseveres, through injury and inconsistency, there when you need it most.
Right now, Tom Thibodeau needs Derrick Rose as much as he ever has. And Derrick Rose, perhaps repaying his coach for all the times Thibodeau was there when Rose needed him the most, is coming up huge.
Not that we should be surprised.
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The Nuggets held them to 94 on April 1, but the Clips were oddly cold from three that night, hitting just 29 percent of their attempts from long range.
Domantas Sabonis has him by a smidgen, at 73.4.