There was no redemption game for Dennis Smith Jr. Only a painful reminder of what he’s missing after he got traded.
The New York Knicks shackled Smith and his new team, Detroit Pistons, 109-90, Sunday night at Little Caesar’s Arena, to move up to solo fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks (18-17) are off to their best start since going 23-12 after their first 35 games in their 54-win campaign in the 2012-13 season. That also marked the last time they made the playoffs.
The Knicks are starting to look like a playoff team. They’re doing it the old-fashioned way, relying on their top-three defense that has now improved to the top two after this win.
Smith came into this game coming off his best performance of the season and shooting 53 percent from the field in his last three games. But the Knicks mercilessly showed why he became dispensable.
Smith, the Pistons’ new lead guard, rammed into the Knicks’ defensive wall and was held to just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Pistons’ offense never got to hit the ground running as they shot an atrocious 38.4 percent from the field.
On the flipside, Derrick Rose, whom the Knicks acquired in exchange for Smith, continued to make an impact. New York is now 3-0 since Rose was inserted into the starting lineup.
“I think the first unit has really found good chemistry together. They’re reading the game well. They’re feeding off each other. They’re playing very unselfishly and are tied together on both ends of the floor,” Tom Thibodeau said.
Rose had 14 points and five assists, while Julius Randle overwhelmed the Pistons frontcourt with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting. The Knicks’ All-Star added eight rebounds, six assists, two steals, and one block in another masterclass.
RJ Barrett also imposed his will. The sophomore swingman has collected his second straight 20-plus point game, dropping 25 points on efficient 8-of-13 shooting. He added five rebounds and three assists.
Nerlens Noel, the only remaining true center in the Knicks’ lineup, continued to hold the fort. He was all over the court (8 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and three blocks). The Knicks even grabbed more defensive rebounds than the Pistons, 35-33.
Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley combined for 28 points off the bench.
Despite missing several key players — Elfrid Payton (sore right hamstring), Mitchell Robinson (broken right hand), and Taj Gibson (left ankle sprain) — the Knicks were no match to the Pistons.
After Jerami Grant opened the game with a triple, the Knicks took control then blow them out after the halftime break.
With only two games left, the Knicks have a shot of going to the All-Star break with a winning record.
They will try to move two games above .500 against San Antonio Spurs on the road on Tuesday before winding up their first-half schedule with a rematch against the Pistons at home on Thursday.
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