Knicks sweep Rockets for the first time in 18 years, inch closer to playoffs

Houston Rockets rookie coach Stephen Silas first saw this type of New York basketball almost three decades ago when he was a Knicks ball boy.

His father, Paul Silas, was one of former Knicks coach Pat Riley’s assistants in 1992. The younger Silas, a high school kid back then, relished the moment of picking up the ball for Patrick Ewing and co. and watching them play tough and physical from the Garden stanchion during the Knicks’ glory days. 

On Sunday night, he watched a reincarnation of that old Knicks squad crushed his young Rockets team in a 122-97 masterclass at the Toyota Center.

“They will try to grind you down, almost like they used to be when I was a ballboy for the Knicks with Patrick (Ewing) and Oak (Charles Oakley) and Mark (Jackson,)” Silas said before the game. They are a tough team.”

On top of that impenetrable defense, the Knicks continued to showcase their impeccable outside shooting. They fired 18 threes on an efficient 51.4 percent clip to kickstart May after leading the league in three-point accuracy (42.2 percent) last month. 

Tom Thibodeau, who indirectly came from the Riley coaching tree via Jeff Van Gundy, has successfully blended the old Knicks’ defensive toughness with an offense that is more in tune with modern times. 

The Rockets fell prey to the league’s top three-point defense, hitting only eight three-pointers. The Knicks held them to 43 percent shooting from the field and 22.9 percent from deep.

Julius Randle got plenty of rest for the second game of their back-to-back schedule tomorrow night in Memphis.

Randle led the Knicks with 31 points in just 30 minutes. It was the eighth time in the last 10 games Randle put up at least 30 points.

The first-time NBA All-Star added seven rebounds and six assists as he received MVP chants on the road. After Randle knocked down back-to-back treys that broke the game wide open in the third quarter, Knicks executive vice president and senior advisor William Wesley aka World Wide Wes, could not contain his emotion and admiration. The Knicks top executive’s animated celebration appeared to be a validation of his offseason move that pushed Randle to All-Star level.

Already assured of at least a play-in spot, the Knicks have higher aspirations, and it showed in their performance tonight that set the tone for their six-game West Coast trip.

The win pushed the Knicks closer to ending their seven-year playoff drought. Even if they drop all their remaining games, the Knicks are still assured of a .500 season. The hottest team in the league, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, continue to hold 1.5 games lead over the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat — both sporting a 35-30 record — for the fourth seed in the East. The Knicks hope to maintain that sole position that comes with a homecourt edge in the first round of the playoffs.

But the win proved costly, though as Nerlens Noel rolled his ankle with 6:57 left in the third quarter and did not return.

The Knicks are already without Mitchell Robinson, who Thibodeau said has no timetable yet for his return. 

The ageless Taj Gibson gave the Knicks a huge lift off the bench with six points and five rebounds in 31 minutes. He had a game-high plus/minus plus-36. Derrick Rose came next with plus-35 in a huge offensive night.

Rose caught up with his former Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, who currently serves as a Rockets assistant, before the game. Then he proceeded to match his season-high scoring with 24 points on 8-of-11 shots. Ten years removed from being the league’s youngest MVP, Rose is blooming once again. The 32-year old guard added six rebounds, four assists, and one steal. 

He spearheaded the Knicks bench which exploded for 50 points that complemented Randle’s big night.

Immanuel Quickley joined the party with 13 points and three threes, including one near the center court logo.

RJ Barrett barrelled his way to 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals in 40 minutes.

The Rockets gave Silas a semblance of hope when they led, 15-10, in the first quarter. But it turned out to be their last gallant stand as he was quickly reminded of the old Knicks team he used to watch up close in the 90s. 

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