Knicks begin life without Mitchell Robinson with easy victory over Rockets

Nerlens Noel picked up the slack on defense while the 35-year old Taj Gibson turned back the clock and was spinning like he was 18.

Tom Thibodeau couldn’t ask for more as the New York Knicks’ collective effort enabled them to ace their first test without their starting center Mitchell Robinson.

On the day they learned that Robinson, who fractured his right hand, would be out for at least a month, the New York Knicks flaunted their depth in a huge 121-99 win against the Houston Rockets.

Their backup centers turned in inspired performances that more than filled up Robinson’s absence.

Noel collected 10 points, six boards, and two swats in his first start of the season, while Gibson added four points, including a beautiful spin drive to the basket off a Derrick Rose assist. He added five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.

“They’re both great pros. You know they’re always ready whatever comes their way,” said Thibodeau praising his backup big men.

“Taj’s motor is an asset because it doesn’t need five minutes to warm up in the game. Once he’s in the game, he’s going. Nerlens is terrific in terms of the rim protection defensively, pick and roll defense and then putting pressure on the rim. And oftentimes, you didn’t see the value of that because it doesn’t show in the statistics of him going hard to the rim. But what it does is that it opens up shots for people. You can’t overlook that,” Thibodeau added.

Julius Randle was a steady presence in the starting unit as he came one rebound short of a double-double (22 points, nine rebounds, and two assists).

But it was the electric backcourt tandem of Rose and Immanuel Quickley once again who stepped on the gas.

Save for an anxious moment in the third quarter when the Rockets came within five, the Knicks threw a fun party at The Garden in the second night of a back-to-back.

The Knicks’ second unit quickly sucked the air out of the Rockets that kept them grounded.

Rose had another impactful role off the bench with 16 points and three assists while Quickley hit four triples en route to his fifth 20-point performance in his young career. Quickley, the 25th pick of the Draft, tied Randle with 22 points while the Knicks’ lottery pick Obi Toppin scored 11 and put on the exclamation point with a vicious alley-oop dunk off a Kevin Knox lob pass.

Eric Gordon and John Wall combined for 50 points for the Rockets, who were missing Victor Oladipo and Christian Wood. They got little help from the rest of the team.

The Knicks’ second unit, led by the Rose-Quickley tandem, outscored their Rockets’ counterpart, 58-30.

“The balance of our team (was the difference). Our bench has given us a big lift. You need that in a game like this. Like tonight, we’re on a back-to-back, and they were waiting for us. I thought our energy was terrific,” Thibodeau said.

It was their second straight blowout win as they continue their steady climb in the standings. Their 13th win in 28 games has enabled them to move up to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks hope to sustain their winning form when they host the Atlanta Hawks on Monday.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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