New York Knicks basketball under Tom Thibodeau is all about toughness and resiliency. But it was Cole Anthony, an Archbishop Molloy High School product, who displayed those traits to rally a young Orlando Magic team against them.
Anthony scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds for his first career double-double to help the Magic stun his hometown Knicks, 110-104, Sunday night in the Garden.
Anthony grew up in New York, where his father, Greg Anthony, played his first four seasons in the NBA.
“I was happy to be home. Hostile environment. I came in and I got the dub,” Anthony said after leading the Magic to their first win of the season, exacting revenge of their embarrassing 121-96 beatdown in Orlando at the hands of the Knicks last Friday. “Good times!”
Good times indeed for the Anthony family.
Anthony played an inspired game in front of his family and friends. He gifted his mother, Crystal McCrary, who celebrated her 52nd birthday, with one of the finest performances in his young NBA career.
When he was not busy scoring, Anthony was a daredevil attacking the teeth of the Knicks defense and kept on finding his open teammates. He added eight assists and led the Magic’s comeback from 13 points down in the first half.
The 21-year old Anthony and the 30-year old veteran Terrence Ross dealt the biggest blows that knocked the Knicks out.
Anthony torched the Knicks in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and five threes. Ross caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring all of his 22 points as the Magic outscored the Knicks, 36-24.
The once-vaunted Knicks’ defense was nowhere to be found with their cold shooting night zapping out their energy.
After making nine of their first 17 three-point attempts, the Knicks missed 27 of their next 31. The shots that buried the Magic in Orlando did not fall in New York. It was the exact opposite of the Knicks’ franchise-record setting 24-of-54 threes two nights ago.
They lived and died with the three-point shot.
“We picked up the ball pressure a little bit understanding who are the [Knicks] shooters, and non-shooters,” said Magic rookie coach Jamahl Mosley. “Our guys did a good job recognizing who was where and we flew around the court. We had multiple efforts making sure we contested shots.”
Julius Randle stuffed the stats sheet with monster numbers (30 points and 16 rebounds). But he only shot 8-for-24 from the field. The Magic baited him to beat them one on one. The ploy worked, which kept the rest of the Knicks’ starting unit out of rhythm.
Evan Fournier missed eight of 11 shots. RJ Barrett misfired a dozen of his 17 attempts.
Their usual gunners — Randle, Barrett, Fournier, Walker, Immanuel Quickley, and Alec Burks — were a combined 8-for-37 from downtown.
Only Derrick Rose waxed hot from the outside, hitting 5-of-8 threes. He had 23 points off the bench as the closer again while Walker watched from the bench down the stretch.
After a season-high 34 assists in Orlando, the Knicks did not move the ball well enough to get rhythm shots. They dished out only 20 assists on 37 field goals. They missed a total of 73 attempts overall that doomed them in their first loss of the season.
The Knicks seemed to have just settled after grabbing a 13-point lead, 47-34, on a 15-0 run. They allowed the Magic to creep back into the game and cut their lead down to five, 57-52, at the half.
“We knew (Magic) would play with intensity but we didn’t play with great urgency. We have to have great intensity. In this league, the players are too good. So, if you allow someone to beat you to loose balls, make hustle plays, you’re playing with fire,” Thibodeau lamented.”
The Knicks paid dearly for their lackadaisical effort losing to the third-youngest team in the league. As a consolation, they avoided a double whammy after surviving another Mitchell Robinson injury scare.
Robinson seemed hurt after colliding with Magic rookie Jalen Suggs for a rebound in the third quarter. After the brief scare, Robinson returned to finish the game. He had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, but he fouled out for the first time since January 26, 2020.
Taj Gibson returned from a two-game paternity leave but hardly impacted the game in 12 minutes as Robinson’s backup. The only impact he did was cut down into Toppin’s minutes. Thibodeau abandoned the small-ball lineup, which worked well in their first two games when Robinson was resting.
Toppin was held to only one field goal — a left-handed alley-oop slam and got abused in the paint. The Brooklyn native only played 12 minutes, his lowest playing time in three games. Toppin, the toast of New York in the last two games, missed his next three shots and ended the game with a whimper.
Instead, the other New Yorker from the opposing team stole the thunder with a homecoming party.
Anthony, selected seven picks later after Toppin in the 2020 NBA Draft, showed out with his game made in New York playgrounds.
Aside from his mother’s birthday, Anthony also drew inspiration from Mosley’s pep talk in their film session Sunday morning.
“It’s more about the resilience that you have to have in these games,” Mosley said. “There was a point when we got down 10, then I think it was Cole [Anthony] who referenced the fact that ‘hey, we talked about that this morning. Down 10, we can’t hang our heads. We got to keep fighting back.’ That’s what we’ve talked about this morning.”
Fight back, they did.
The Magic wiped out a Knicks’ nine-point lead in the second half. In the fourth quarter, their defense held Randle and Barrett to an identical but brutal 2-for-7 shooting.
“All of us were disappointed and we have to do better,” Thibodeau said. “When you lose, the most important thing is to learn and to move it forward.”
So, when the Knicks have their film session on Monday, the view of Anthony, the undersized Magic point guard, outrebounding them would be a painful reminder of their lack of fight in this game.
“Cole (Anthony) came back home and played with that toughness, that confidence, that resilience,” Mosley said. “The one thing that stands out most is his ability to rebound the basketball, and he made the right plays.”
When a reporter asked how a 6-foot-2 guard grabbed 16 rebounds against a big and physical team like the Knicks, Anthony contested that he’s 6-foot-3 before answering the question.
“Rebounding is all about effort. It’s about who wants it,” said a feisty Anthony.
In a game they were not supposed to win, Anthony stood tallest and played with a big heart, usually displayed by his hometown Knicks.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo