With the New York Knicks‘ season unraveling with mounting losses and COVID-19 cases, rookie Quentin Grimes stepped up and made the most out of a rare opportunity.
Grimes, the 25th pick of this year’s draft, provided the silver lining in the Knicks’ wire-to-wire 112-97 loss to defending champion Milwaukee Bucks Sunday noon at Madison Square Garden.
After Obi Toppin entered the health and safety protocols on Saturday, RJ Barrett joined him Sunday morning. Starting point guard Alec Burks also took a day off reportedly to attend to his wife, who gave birth to their child.
Grimes was thrust into a starting role alongside Derrick Rose with the three key players out. The rookie out of Houston did not disappoint as he shattered two Knicks rookie records with a career-high 27 points and seven triples.
“I really didnâ€™t expect it [to start],” Grimes said. “I found out about 90 minutes before the game when we knew RJ couldnâ€™t play that I was going to start. I just needed to keep my mind right and do whatever I was doing in college to prepare myself for moments like this. It was definitely a surreal moment, and I was just trying to soak it all in.”
Grimes started tentatively and turned the ball over for his first play of the night. But a couple of minutes later, he set up Evan Fournier for a pullup jumper. Then he sank his first shot — a three-pointer — off a Julius Randle feed nearly seven minutes into the game.
“Once I kind of let my first shot go, I got comfortable,” Grimes said.
Oh boy, he did.
Grimes pumped in eight points in the Knicks’ 15-4 run in the second quarter as they trimmed the Bucks’ 21-point lead to 10, 58-48. He was hotter in the third quarter with four three-pointers. At one point, he drained three consecutive triples that woke up the silent sellout Garden crowd of 19,812.
“[It was] my first time really feeling the crowd. It was definitely something I take in for sure, but hopefully, we can come out next time with the [win],” Grimes said.
The rookie’s explosion was not enough to lift the undermanned Knicks, who fell to their sixth loss in the last seven games and moved three games below .500. But for what it’s worth, it was a positive development for the organization, which had more than their fair share of misses in the draft and questionable player development program in the past.
“Well, it could [impact his minutes]. It starts with practicing well, which I see every day,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said of Grimes. “He comes back every night, comes in early every day, works extremely hard, very good in practice.”
“So we were confident when he got his opportunity that he would play well, which he did. One game doesnâ€™t make a huge difference, but itâ€™s a very positive step because of the way he approaches things. Heâ€™s a great competitor. Itâ€™s important to him. He studies. Heâ€™s prepared himself extremely well.”
Grimes credited his father for advising him to stay in phenomenal shape, Thibodeau for always preaching the ‘stay ready, next man up mentality,’ and assistant coach Darren Erman for their daily workout.
Despite only playing 39 minutes in 10 of the Knicks’ first 26 games, Grimes kept himself in tip-top shape by logging in two to three 10 rounds of running around the court at the end of his nightly shooting routine. He asked the coaches to record his running time during the pre-conditioning test as his base and motivation. Sometimes, he adds two more minutes on the clock and runs as fast as he can around their Tarrytown practice facility. He does extra lifting in the weight room and takes good care of his body to prepare for moments like Sunday.
“I can’t be ready to be able to play only 12 minutes,” Grimes said.
Grimes ended up playing a game-high 40 minutes in his first career start and filled the stats sheet with his defensive grit and shot-making. He made 9 of 17 overall and went 7 for 13 beyond the arc. He added three rebounds, three assists, and three steals, with the five turnovers the only blemish, aside from the loss, to his sterling performance.
With Barrett expected to miss at least 10 days unless he yields two negative PCR test results from samples collected at least 24 hours apart, Grimes has a real shot at going on a nice run.
If Grimes keeps up this solid play, that could push Thibodeau to figure out minutes for him once the team returns to full strength.
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