Knicks’ defense proves fierce in 109-94 win over the Rockets

NBA: Houston Rockets at New York Knicks
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With the New York Knicks coming off of a tough loss against the Orlando Magic on Monday, they would host the Houston Rockets in a contest at Madison Square Garden. Jalen Brunson returned to the lineup, providing 30 points alongside Julius Randle’s team-best 31 points, helping to guide the team to a much-needed win. That being said, the defense was the star of the show in tonight’s contest, as the Knicks proved too tough to handle for the Rockets with their excellent defensive effort.

New York’s defense suffocated the Houston offense, and they were unable to convert shots as the Knicks overcame a slow start in the first quarter for an 109-94 win.

Jalen Brunson Shines in Return, Defense Carries Knicks to Victory

NBA: Houston Rockets at New York Knicks
Jan 17, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives to the basket against Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet (5) during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks were hoping to see Jalen Brunson rebound from his left calf contusion, an injury that had sidelined him and caused the New York offense to slow to a halt. With a chance to get back into the win column against a so-so Rockets team, the 26-year-old guard was brilliant, scoring 30 points on the night and providing the team with much-needed scoring prowess. While they didn’t have a dominant scoring night as a team, Brunson showed once again why he’s the engine of their offense, as his playmaking and excellent shooting tore up Houston’s defense.

Defense was the theme of tonight’s contest however, as the Knicks were guided by another brilliant defensive showing from OG Anunoby, who had four steals and a block, going +24 on the night. Anunoby provided 15 points on 50% shooting with five rebounds, continuing to glue their lineup together as a two-way wing who can hit threes when needed and guard the opposing team’s best player, and the Rockets had no answers for the Knicks’ stout defense, shooting just 41.7% from the field.

Alperen Sengun has been a breakout player for the Houston Rockets this season, averaging 21.6 points a night and being an excellent facilitator for a big man, but Isaiah Harteinstein kept him at bay as well. The usually efficient center hit just five of his 14 shots (35.7%), with Harteinstein having more rebounds (11) and matching him in assists (5), as he’s continued to play excellent basketball as the team’s starting center. The injury to Mitchell Robinson seemed as if it would be detrimental to the Knicks’ defense, but he’s stepped up big time.

NBA: Houston Rockets at New York Knicks
Jan 17, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) controls the ball against New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While Julius Randle came off of an ugly performance against the Orlando Magic, he would lead the team in scoring with 31 points on 61% shooting, adding eight rebounds and four assists as well. It was a much-needed rebound performance for the two-time All-NBA forward, and he’s continued to be a reliable volume scorer over the past two months, taking much more efficient shots and not falling into cold streaks as frequently as he has in the past.

For as much as he’s faced criticism in New York, the ways he’s been able to improve and adapt as the Knicks have added pieces around him has been impressive, and he’s always responded after a poor game. This year has highlighted his growth as one of the faces of the Knicks, and in a sense, it feels like this is the best version of Randle that we’ve seen since joining the team back in 2019.

The bench still struggled to get much going offensively, but Josh Hart ended up leading the team in rebounds (13) and adding 10 points on 11 shots. Quentin Grimes would add 11 points on 2-8 shooting, and no one else on the bench would score a basket. It was also an off night for Donte DiVincenzo, hitting just two of his seven attempts from the field, but it was an overall excellent win for the Knicks, who slammed the door shut on Houston in the fourth.

New York hosts the Washington Wizards for a back-to-back tomorrow night, as they’ll look to make it two in a row and maintain their spot as the fifth seed in the East.