A late Christmas present from Santa Claus to New York Knicks fans came with a big help from The Elf.
Elfrid Payton silenced his critics on Sunday night as he wrapped the Knicks’ first win of the season — a 130-110 demolition of the Eastern Conference favorite Milwaukee Bucks — with a strong bounce-back performance.
After the Knicks’ fans clamored for his benching following a scoreless outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, Payton responded with his best game as a Knick. The much-maligned point guard scored a season-high 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 trip from downtown. He laced it up with three rebounds and seven assists.
The Knicks have missed out or deliberately shunned the Chris Pauls, Fred Van Vleets, and Russell Westbrooks, depending on which version of reports you would like to believe. But on Sunday night, the Knicks collectively showed their immense potential under new head coach Tom Thibodeau if they have a lead guard producing All-Star numbers.
With Payton directing the offense like an All-Star, the Knicks were sharp Sunday night, hitting 46 out of 85 field goals (54.1%) on 27 assists.
“We shared the ball. The ball was moving. The guys were getting rhythm shots, and I think that’s why we made a good bit of them tonight,” Payton said postgame.
Several Knicks players were on rhythm in this game.
Julius Randle tied Payton’s output with his own 29-point effort that came with 14 rebounds and seven assists. Alec Burks continued his solid play off the bench with 18 points, including four triples and five assists.
RJ Barrett also bounced back from a sub-par game against Philadelphia with 17 points, eight boards, and four assists. Even Frank Ntilikina came out smoking in the garbage time, hitting all four three-point attempts and finished with 12 points.
The Knicks connected on 16-of-27 from downtown for a whopping 59.3 percent.
The extra shooting session led by Payton following their blowout loss to the Sixers last night definitely helped.
Knicks’ defensive wall
The Knicks’ defense was as sharp as their offense. Despite Giannis Antetokoumpo getting away with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, the Knicks closed out on their shooters. They limited the usually sharp Bucks to a measly 7-for-38 (18.4%) three-point shooting.
Only Antetokounmpo and ex-Knick Bobby Portis shot over 50 percent from the field for the Bucks.
Portis came off the bench to score 17 points, while Khris Middleton added 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting performance. The Bucks’ new addition Jrue Holiday was a disappointment with just eight points on 4-of-10 field goals.
The Knicks will embark on a four-game road trip beginning at Cleveland on Tuesday.
Dennis Smith Jr. joined the injury list with a quad injury. Rookies Immanuel Quickley (hip pointer) and Obi Toppin (calf strain) missed their second consecutive game. Meanwhile, Austin Rivers (pulled groin), who has yet to see action this season, has been cleared to take contact in practice, Thibodeau revealed in his postgame interview.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo