The New York Knicks needed a momentum-shifting win, and they secured that against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, Christmas day. Despite not having Trae Young, who circled the game on his calendar against the Knicks, Atlanta did their best to spoil a big home game for New York.
The Knicks gained back several bodies from the NBA health and protocols list, enjoying play from RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes. All three made a significant impact, combining for 37 points, with Toppin and Grimes coming off the bench for 28.
However, this game had a different feel to it than previous ones, as head coach Tom Thibodeau noted after the victory. He pinpointed a difference in flow and balance, which helped the offense create better opportunities and a focus on more efficient defense.
“Just the start of the game, the unselfishness, how hard we play. Getting some bodies back, but the unselfishness on both sides of the ball. There were a number of really good plays that got people great shots.”
“Unselfishness” seems to be a keyword in his explanation, passing the ball with vision and not thinking about one’s self. Power forward Julius Randle seemed to embody that, allowing Kemba Walker to execute at his peak performance and maximize strength while playing in a secondary role. Previously, Randle was trying to do all the hard work, leaving Walker in no man’s land. The chemistry between those two players is essential, and if they can find a healthy balance, it is clear they are difficult to stop.
“The attack, getting stops, starting with our defense getting into the open floor. Making the extra pass, getting the swing of the ball,” Thibs listed on.
The extra pass is something the Knicks have failed to execute, especially with a myriad of shooters to feed. Evan Fournier launched six three-point attempts, hitting 50% and finishing with 15 points. His flow and rhythm seem to be far more balanced, which Thibodeau noticed considering Walker’s 12 assists.
“The last five of the half, I thought Kemba had control of the game, and I thought he had two or three kick-aheads to Evan that gave Evan rhythm. When you have a flow like that, the balance to the scoring is a lot better.”
Kemba only scored 10 points, but he posted 12 assists and 10 rebounds, good for his first triple-double of the season. The return of Walker has proved to be a significant difference-maker, posting four consecutive games with double-digit points and breaching 40 points against the Washington Wizards in a disappointing loss last Thursday. However, his play has been inspiring, and Randle had nothing but great things to say about Walker after Saturday’s win.
“Man, he’s honestly like, he’s the heart and soul of our team. We talk about it all the time, it’s me and him, the team will go as we go. If we come to the game and bring energy, we fight, we compete, everybody else is going to do it too. He’s been doing a great job every night coming out, leading us, bringing energy, and just going every game. He means a lot to our team for sure.