It was an ugly win against the league’s worst team, but the New York Knicks may have found something to build on in their ongoing quest to fix their starting lineup’s chemistry issues.
A day after Evan Fournier put his dwindling playing time and recent fourth-quarter benching into perspective, the Knicks’ acknowledged leader Julius Randle got his message.
“We always say that we want the game to tell you what to do. Make the right plays. I don’t want them pre-determined ‘I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna shoot 15 times.’ If he’s open, I don’t want [Evan] hesitating. I don’t think all his teammates do either,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks dodged a bullet from the Houston Rockets, the league’s worst team.
“We all have a lot of confidence in his shooting. The question becomes ‘how can we help each other get better?’ And I thought Julius made a conscious effort to get him shots.”
True enough, Randle tracked Fournier throughout the game to get him not just shots but rhythm shots.
Fournier fired 19 points, 11 of them coming off Randle’s assists. Randle made 19 passes — the second-most he dished out to a teammate next to 27 to Kemba Walker. Seven of those passes resulted in a shot attempt, and Fournier converted four of them, accounting for 44.4 percent of Randle’s game-high nine assists.
In return, Fournier made 15 passes to Randle, which resulted in three looks at the basket. Randle made 1 of 3 out of those Fournier’s intended assist. It was the most number of passes Fournier made to a teammate. His next best passing partner, Kemba Walker, only received six passes.
“It will get better as we go. I thought it was very good. They made a number of really good plays. I thought they played off each extremely well. The more they do it, the better they get at it,” Thibodeau said of the Randle-Fournier two-man game.
It was a step in the right direction for the Randle-Fournier partnership, which was expected to be better than the Randle-Reggie Bullock tandem last season.
Thanks to Randle’s timely assist, Fournier finally snapped out of his November shooting slump and regained his fourth-quarter minutes. While Fournier scored only two points on 1 of 3 shooting in more than five minutes of playing time in the fourth quarter, his activity off the ball created opportunities for the Knicks.
Fournier’s pick and roll with Randle led to Alec Burks’ huge three-pointer that allowed the Knicks to pull away in the final three minutes.
Knicks run one more PnR with Fournier and Randle. Again Randle makes a great pass as he's going downhill and finds Burks for another 3 pointer. Huge 4th Q from Burks pic.twitter.com/d7AHRqAplu
— Ariel (@APachecoNBA) November 21, 2021
“It’s fun to play in the fourth quarter. But to be honest, this is what I expect,” Fournier said. “I know what I am capable of and what I can bring so I have to make sure I play really well during those minutes that I have and hopefully, things are gonna go well. But as long as we win and we play well, that’s all that matters.”
Fournier sank 5 of 10 three-pointers and matched his scoring total over his last four games, entering Saturday’s game. His best stretch came in the second quarter, where he scattered 11 points. Fournier re-entered the game, replacing Burks with 5:41 left before halftime and the Knicks trailing. Fournier quickly made his presence felt, and his scoring binge gave the Knicks a five-point lead, 47-42 before the Rockets came back to tie it before the break.
“It felt pretty good. It’s been two, three games now that we have better ball movement. Like we have a better overall better body language out there, more rhythm. We can all benefit from it. For [us] starters, it’s really catching that rhythm that we had early on,” Fournier said.
It was a remarkable recovery from one of the worst starts of the Knicks under Thibodeau, where the starters combined to shoot 5 for 20 for just 13 points in the opening quarter.
While Fournier said practices are mostly confined in the film room more than five-on-five scrimmages, the starters are conscious of their recent on-court struggles and have been very vocal about it.
“We’ve been communicating a lot. All five of us, trying to really get ourselves going because obviously, we’re gonna need to play well if we’re gonna have a good season. We all want to do well and we all want to win,” Fournier said. “Talking is one thing, but we need action. And I thought like I said, those two, three games were better. It’s not where we want by any means but I think we’re getting there.”
Sunday’s rematch with the Chicago Bulls, who they beat in a 104-103 squeaker earlier, will provide an acid test on this newfound chemistry.
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