Following a three-game slide, New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau declared his team is in a bit of funk, and they have to work collectively to get out of it.
The Knicks responded with their largest win since a 46-point rout (125-79) of the Toronto Raptors in 1996.
Julius Randle led six Knicks in double figures as the entire team issued a season-high 31 assists in blowing out the Detroit Pistons, 125-81, Saturday night at the Little Caesars Arena.
“I just love the togetherness, the spirit of the team. They care about each other. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the losses. And to come back and bounce back the way we did, it says a lot about the character of the team,” Thibodeau said.
“Obviously, we still have a long way to go. But these guys are terrific. They work hard, they play for each other. And you can see it. There’s the intent to correct it,” Thibodeau added. “But the spirit of the team, the resiliency, it showed out. And that’s what you have to do. You have to fight for the things that you want.”
Randle typified the Knicks’ determination to rebound. The All-Star forward bounced back from an ugly 5-for-20 shooting against Dallas the night before with 9-for-16 tonight. He scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the first quarter that set the tone for their most emphatic win of the season.
The Knicks vented their frustrations on the hapless Pistons, the worst team in the Eastern Conference, with a 14-0 start and never looked back.
Randle and Reggie Bullock, who had a season-high 22 points, hit four triples each in the opening period. The Knicks led 41-15 after the first quarter.
It was so one-sided that Thibodeau was comfortable resting his starters in the fourth quarter. He let all his players, including newly-signed Norvel Pelle, play.
Pelle, who recently signed a 10-day contract, had a sensational debut with the Knicks. After dislocating his finger on a dunk attempt, Pelle just shrugged it off and punctuated the victory with two consecutive blocks on Pistons rookie Isaiah Stewart.
Pelle had one point, three rebounds, and two blocks in under three minutes.
RJ Barrett also rebounded from his subpar play against Dallas with 14 points on efficient 5-of-7 shooting.
Elfrid Payton had his finest performance this season with 11 points and a game-high nine assists.
The huge win pushed the Knicks’ record back to .500 (25-25). More importantly, they gained a bit of separation from the Boston Celtics (24-25) for the East’s solo seventh spot.
After the worst team in the East, the best team of the conference—crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets (34-15)—awaits them in New York. The Knicks will have their hands full on Monday as there’s a possibility that the Nets’ Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden will be complete.
In a classic Thibodeau fashion, the Knicks pragmatic coach said they approach the game like the way they think of every opponent.
“We know how talented they are. We have to be ready. Even if one is out, they have a ton of talent. They’ve added more talent to their team. We know if we defend, we rebound and keep our turnovers down, we’re more than capable,” Thibodeau said.
Easier said than done. But that’s the difference for these overachieving Knicks than the previous years. Their confidence comes from Thibodeau’s maniacal preparation.
“We gotta study, prepare and be ready to go when the ball goes up,” Thibodeau said.
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