No apology was needed. The Hawks were missing two regulars, then lost Dejounte Murray four minutes into the game. They were injured, undersized, and that caught the team off guard, and that’s why they were vulnerable. It happens. The Knicks were whole. They were healthy. They were at home.
They won 113-89.
No excuses. No asterisks. The Knicks are at a point in their season where they need to win as much as possible, and they did. They had to find a way to play better at home, and they won back-to-back games against Cleveland and Atlanta, keeping both teams in the 80s, which baffled their defense-o-file coach. he had to eat.
Besides, the Knicks are in a period of discovery. The cycle time has been shortened. It hastened. It will be helpful if Julius Randle is the same version of himself that led the Knicks in 2020-21 (34 points, 17 boards), as he was on Wednesday. But it will be more useful when he gets a little … well, help. And from some new sources.
Wednesday had Quentin Grimes.
Grimes scored 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting (5-of-7 from 3), playing great defense and often making Trae Young’s life difficult. Better yet, he did so after playing 40 ½ minutes Sunday night against Cleveland. This isn’t random news after I had a late start to the season with a sore left foot.
“I think I’m completely back,” Grimes said. “It took me a few weeks to fully recover, but I feel good.”
And he is playing better and better. Grimes was always viewed as a true wild card in the Knicks deck after a terrible performance in summer league this year. He is young (22), fast, athletic, good shooter. He also plays defense like Tom Thibodeau dreams all his players do, as if the man he’s guarding owes him.
On Sunday, he helped slow down Donovan Mitchell. It was Young on Wednesday. Maybe the Knicks don’t have the personnel to be a great defensive team. But in Grimes, they have a place to live.
When you get your hands on his shooter on Wednesday … it becomes a true 3-and-D player. And that’s what made the Knicks cry.
“He’s huge for us,” Randle said of Grimes. “He competes on the defensive end of the floor and that makes a difference.”
Thibodeau’s decision to cut back on the rotation after ruling out Evan Fournier a few weeks ago has opened up minutes for several of the Knicks’ kids. Grimes is currently in the starting lineup, and it may take an act of Congress to remove him because he is effectively playing both ends. Deus McBride has replaced Derrick Rose as Jalen Brunson’s backup for the time being.
“Our energy and drive was outstanding tonight,” said McBride, who dished out six assists in 27 minutes and helped ease the fact that Brunson rarely committed errors (2-for-14, four turnovers). “We were better at talking and communicating and that allowed us to execute our game plan.”
McBride also said that “there’s magic in basketball” wouldn’t be the worst mantra to visit the Knicks locker room.
That’s something he brought with him from his basketball upbringing in Cincinnati, and it means making sure everyone around him gets their fair share of touches. Thibodeau certainly approves, and can add his own conclusion: there’s charm in defense, too. As much as Grimes’ volley electrified the 18,901 inside the park, it was another aspect that satisfied his coach.
“He reads the defense very well,” Thibodeau said. “And as he gets more knowledge and gets to know each guy more, he’s going to get better. He reads. He has a knack for it. He is a hard worker. He practices the same way he plays. Some kids practice at half speed and it’s a difficult adjustment in games. He’s the ultimate gym rat: early, late, great competitor.”
And his emergence is exactly what the Knicks need right now as they try to change the narrative they’ve often stifled. His energy was infectious at the Garden on Wednesday night and it was good to see.