All it took was a players-only dinner and a tightened rotation to right the ship.
The New York Knicks responded with great urgency as they dealt the Utah Jazz their first home loss of the season, 118-111, Tuesday night to open a daunting five-game West Coast trip.
After the Knicks’ embarrassing home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that reportedly warmed up Tom Thibodeau’s seat, Julius Randle organized a players-only dinner ahead of the Jazz game.
The Monday night bonding led to a better showing.
Six players hit double figures in a balanced Knicks attack led by Jalen Brunson’s 25 points and eight assists.
The Knicks had 26 assists on 44 field goals.
The Immanuel Quickley-Obi Toppin duo sparked a 16-2 run to open the fourth quarter as the Knicks transformed a four-point deficit into the game’s first double-digit lead, 99-89, with 7:47 left. Then Brunson, who also had three rebounds and three steals, sealed the deal with great composure to fend off Utah’s last-ditch rally.
Thibodeau’s decision to use a shorter nine-man rotation led to more fluidity on the floor. Veteran Evan Fournier and Quentin Grimes, the two players expected to battle for the starting shooting guard spot in the training camp, were the casualty of Thibodeau’s latest attempt to address the Knicks’ inconsistency.
Instead, Cam Reddish continued to flourish, cementing his spot in the starting lineup with another solid two-way performance. Reddish followed up his 26-point effort with 19 points on 7 of 13 shots. He was all over the floor, collecting one steal and block while contesting 10 Jazz shots, the most by any Knicks player in the game.
Quickley and Toppin had three triples each, combining for 22 points off the bench. Despite battling foul trouble, Jericho Sims also stood out with his second career double-double (11 points and 13 rebounds).
The Knicks bench scored 39 points to neutralize their Jazz counterparts, who put up 44, led by Malik Beasley’s 14 points.
Randle had a quiet 15 points but had a critical hustle play with 1:58 left that led Reddish’s two free throws to extend the Knicks’ lead to eight, 113-105.
RJ Barrett continued to bleed for his points, scoring 18 points on 18 shots. He also struggled at the free throw line, going 8 for 14. But he still played well despite not shooting well. He was a plus-3 during his 37-minute stint on the floor and found other ways to help the team with three rebounds and four assists against a single turnover.
The shortened Knicks rotation collectively played with much better defense, limiting the high-scoring Jazz to just 83 field goal attempts, 10 less than their average. Utah hit 36, seven less than their sixth-ranked 43 field goals made entering the game.
The Knicks hope to sweep the most challenging back-to-back road schedule in the NBA Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets as they caught a lucky break.
Reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic recently joined Nuggets sixth man Bones Hyland in the health and safety protocols, giving the Knicks a golden opportunity to end a 16-year losing spell in Denver.
It remains to be seen whether the Knicks’ sense of urgency is here to stay or they will fall back to inconsistency.
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