Bullock’s injury forces Knicks to shake up starting lineup

Reggie Bullock of the New York Knicks

As the games keep on coming, the injury bug also keeps on hitting the New York Knicks.

Starter Reggie Bullock will not play Monday night in Charlotte due to a sore right hip, the Knicks announced.

Bullock has been averaging 28.7 minutes producing 8.5 points on 33.3 percent on threes, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists.

His outside shooting and defense will be sorely missed as Tom Thibodeau’s wing rotation is getting thinner.

The timing couldn’t have come at the worst time with the Knicks in the midst of a two-game losing streak. They have their plate full this week with a four-game schedule, including Monday night’s match against the streaking Hornets.

Bullock joins the Knicks’ injury list that also includes rookie Obi Toppin (strained right calf), Frank Ntilikina (sprained right knee), Alec Burks (sprained left ankle), and new signee Taj Gibson who is still undergoing health protocols before joining the team.

The Knicks are expected to bring Austin Rivers up to the starting unit to replace Bullock. But there’s also a chance that Kevin Knox will get the starting nod if Thibodeau opts to have a veteran leader on the floor for his second unit.

Meanwhile, Toppin is making progress with his recovery, although he hasn’t been cleared for contact.

“Right now, it’s 1-on-0, with some movement, jumping, change of direction, and that sort of thing,” Thibodeau said last Sunday.

“Then he’ll progress to 2-on-2, 3-on-3, and get to the point where he can get to 5-on-5 and get through practice,” he continued.

Toppin hasn’t seen action since the season opener.

Burks, on the other hand, is closing to re-evaluation later this week. The veteran wingman had been on a walking boot since Wednesday last week. He was initially given a 7-10 day timetable before he can be re-evaluated.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks’ Julius Randle and showing off his dominance and it’s bad news for Obi Toppin

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

When the New York Knicks entered the preseason, there was a serious debate that eighth overall pick Obi Toppin could cut into Julius Randle’s minutes, but that question has since been answered. Toppin has suffered a calf strain that could keep him out for quite some time, and in his absence, Randle is completely dominating.

However, the Randle and Toppin tandem is set to be an exciting one. Playing him simultaneously would’ve been and will be an interesting mesh, and Randle was actually excited about the addition of Obi.

“He can shoot it and run the floor. So I think we’ll be able to complement each other well,” Randle said.

The New York Knicks are seeing some of their players buy-in:

Through three regular-season games, Toppin is averaging nine points, considering he only played in the initial loss to the Indiana Pacers. He heaved up seven three-point attempts, completely shattering his average from his time at Dayton.

Randle, on the other hand, is averaging 35.7 minutes per game and 23.7 points. He’s also averaging 10 rebounds, which would indicate a double-double per game.

The Knicks surprisingly pummeled the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday evening, scoring 130 points as Randle posted 29 and 14 total rebounds. He also accumulated seven assists, showing his desire to move the ball and provide for his teammates.

In 2019, Randall was more of a ball-hog and didn’t offer the same passing efficiency, but he’s looking to stretch the floor now and buy into Tom Thibodeau’s system.

With Toppin set to miss at least two more weeks with a calf strain, we should see a lot more of Randle in the coming days, which is a great thing.

Thibodeau stated regarding Obi’s injury:

“When you miss that type of time, with that type of injury, there’s going to be a period of time for him to get back to speed in terms of playing,’’ Thibodeau said. “And so obviously with a calf, you can’t run or jump, so the conditioning component will factor into that.’’

Knicks News: Obi Toppin injury more severe than expected, Elfrid Payton sees the light

New York Knicks, Elfrid Payton

The New York Knicks headed into a difficult contest against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday evening with more bad news. Rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin are both rehabilitating with injuries, not even lasting two games before being forced to the bench. Unfortunately, both injuries will keep them out for multiple games, but eighth overall pick, Toppin, could miss weeks with a calf strain.

“When you miss that type of time, with that type of injury, there’s going to be a period of time for him to get back to speed in terms of playing,’’ Thibodeau said. “And so obviously with a calf, you can’t run or jump, so the conditioning component will factor into that.’’

It was previously thought that Obi wouldn’t miss too much time, but calf injuries have derailed player’s season’s in the past. Despite the loss of both rookies, Sunday evening went surprisingly well for the Knicks against Milwaukee.

In the contest, which was the Knicks’ first win of the 2021 season, they scored 130 points thanks to fantastic performances from Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, and Alec Burks. There were very few players who didn’t contribute positively to this win, and they did it without both of their new players from the most recent draft class.

A big win for the Knicks to cover up the start to the season:

To start the campaign, the Knicks dropped their first two games, allowing over 100 points in both, and that didn’t change against the Bucks, despite winning by a 20-point margin. Their defense, which is supposed to be their staple under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, has not emerged as a significant factor. They are simply being forced to outscore their opponents.

The Knicks look ahead to Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team they beat twice during the preseason. The Cavs are coming off a strong performance against the Philadelphia 76ers and have won three straight to start the season. They have overcome the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, and 76ers, scoring 118+ points in all three games. Simply put, the Knicks will have to dominate on the scoreboard against this opponent as well, as their defense will do little against a team displaying a high octane offense.

New York Knicks receive major blow with rookies already set to miss time

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

Both New York Knicks’ rookies made their NBA debut against the Indiana Pacers last Wednesday. While the Knicks ended up losing the contest by a sizable margin, it was nice to see the youngsters earn early reps, despite a few injuries that could force them out against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday evening.

No. 8 overall pick Obi Toppin struggled in his first contest as a professional, going 3-of-12 from the field for nine points, also earning three rebounds, one assist, and two blocks in 24 minutes. He took seven shots from beyond the arc, connecting on three of them. This was an interesting game for Toppin, who usually doesn’t take so many shots from three-point land.

Alternatively, rookie wing Immanuel Quickley played just 12 minutes before suffering a hip pointer injury. He logged five points in his debut, and the expectation is that the Knicks will be without both Toppin and Quickley for the home opener against Philadelphia. That’s not exactly how they envisioned the start of the season going, as Toppin is dealing with a sore right calf and Quickley recovering from a left hip issue.

The expectation is that both Austin Rivers and Omari Spellman will both be sidelined with groin and right knee injuries, indicating a poor start for the Knicks in the health category.

As new head coach Tom Thibodeau continues to build his starting five and figure out what the best combinations of players are, injuries couldn’t come at a worse time. Developing chemistry and continuity is essential earlier in the season, especially with all of these new faces.

How long do the New York Knicks expect Quickley to be out?

“A hip pointer is basically a localized bruise to an area of the pelvic girdle, commonly the back of the hip. A lot of swelling can occur in a short amount of time, which can be very painful in the short term, and affects Quickley’s ability to perform basketball movements,” Dr. Eusebio told Alder Almo of Empire Sports Media.

“The good news is that this type is resolved by rest & strategic physical therapy. If Quickley can restore pain-free, comfortable hip movement, then he should be getting around on the floor again sooner rather than later. Barring further diagnostics, expect to see him back on the floor very soon (1-2 weeks),” added Eusebio, who has worked with NBA, MLB, NFL athletes, and Olympians.

Toppin’s injury is expected to be less severe than Quickley’s, but I would anticipate him missing Saturday’s game and potentially one more with the issue. Luckily, it is nothing long-term, and he should return relatively soon.

New York Knicks: One stat shows how rattled Obi Toppin was in first NBA game

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

The New York Knicks fell to the Indiana Pacers 107-121 in the season opener. The Knicks were always underdogs entering this contest, and with new head coach Tom Thibodeau still trying to figure out the best starting five, I don’t expect things to get any easier in the near future.

Of course, the injury to Immanuel Quickley, which could keep them out for one-two weeks, is extremely devastating for a team that lacks a point guard with zest. Elfrid Payton is about average and offers glimpses of quality, but has not been able to provide solid performances consistently. Quickley offered something new at the position for the Knicks, a player who stretches the floor and utilize his youth and athleticism to his advantage. I believed that the Kentucky product would start the season at PG, but with just 12 minutes under his name, he was forced out.

The offensive leader in the contest for New York was RJ Barrett, who was 8-for-8 in the first half and finished 11-of-15, hitting all of his three-pointers, earning 26 points. Eighth overall pick Obi Toppin had a tough start to his career, finishing 3-of-12 with nine points. He displayed his speed and athleticism on the core on multiple occasions, but he was simply uncomfortable in his first NBA regular-season game. He will get better as he adapts to other players’ physicality, but he did one interesting thing that stood out in the loss.

Toppin hoisted seven three-pointers in the contest, hitting on three. Last year with Dayton, he averaged just 2.6 three-point attempts per contest, so this interesting statistic from his first game stood out.

“I’m just trying to find the flow of the game,’’ Toppin said. “And those were the spots I found. I think I had a couple inside shots but I rushed it a lot. I’m still learning. This is my first real season game and I have a lot to learn. So I’m going to take my time and allow everybody to give me feedback on the team and just learn from it.”

The New York Knicks need to help Toppin calm his nerves during in the Home Opener:

“I don’t feel perfect, but I feel all right,’’ Toppin said. “It was a learning experience. All of us have to get better at what we’re doing on the court and trust each other and trust what the coach is telling us.”

New York Knicks: Rival GM’s rave about Obi Toppin through annual draft survey

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

When the New York Knicks selected Obi Toppin with the 8th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, most wondered why president Leon Rose and Co. elected to pass on a point guard, a position the team desperately needed an upgrade at. However, the Dayton product was always a great prospect, whether the Knicks went with him or not.

Against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 3 of the pre-season, Toppin recorded a +/- of +16 with 8 points from 4-of-6 shooting. His defense was a bit spotty at times, jumping in front of shooters and biting on fakes, but his athleticism undoubtedly showed its true colors with an electric dunk from the baseline. There’s little doubt that Toppin can become a force for the Knicks on offense immediately, but it’s his defense that raises some questions.

Head coach Tom Thibidoue has prioritized defense, which will force Obi to improve in that area, something he’s excited to do as the Knicks prepare for the regular season to commence.

“I feel really good going into any game with my offensive skills, and I also do with my defensive skills,” the New York Knicks rookie said on a conference call earlier this month. “A lot of people say I don’t play good defense, but I feel like I push myself every single day to get better at what I need to do to be great, and I have great people around me who are helping me with that.

Toppin has plenty to work on, but if his relentless mentality is what elevates him above the rest and takes the fear out of some despite being a 22-year-old rookie. General managers across the league have commended the Knicks for making the selection, and so far, it seems to be paying off.

Toppin ranked third in polling for the projected 2020-21 Rookie of the Year award in NBA.com’s annual survey of GMs. In fact, rival general managers seemed to love the Toppin pick, who actually ranks about No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards in the category.

Regarding long-term potential, GM’s see him as the 7th best player five-years from now from his drat class and ranked fifth in biggest steal.

Toppin, the eighth selection in the draft out of Dayton, is listed third at 18 percent, ahead of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards of Minnesota (7%).

If the Ossining, NY, native can live up to expectations, the Knicks will have themselves a dominant offensive threat for years to come, a reality they haven’t enjoyed in quite some time.

Obi Toppin and his family of Knicks fans excited for his Garden debut

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

Obi Toppin grew up in a family of New York Knicks fans. His grandfather was a season-ticket holder.

“He went to every game,’’ Toppin said. “You go to dinner with him, and he’ll tell you a thousand stories of him going there.’’

Toppin’s father, Obadiah Sr. once graced the Madison Square Garden with his dunks in a one-on-one basketball tournament called The Last Man Standing.

On Wednesday night, it will be Toppin’s turn to create his own highlights at The Garden that will definitely become his grandfather’s favorite Knicks story.

“It’s going to be amazing,’’ Toppin told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday about his much-awaited Garden debut. “I’m from here. I’ve been watching the Knicks all my life. My family’s been a fan of the Knicks since I wasn’t even born. Me having an opportunity to step on the court with these guys and compete against another team is going to be amazing. I can’t wait for that time to come.’’

Draft Day twist

Toppin and the Knicks will continue their preseason schedule against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that has been linked to him in most mock drafts at No. 5. Toppin played college ball near Cleveland in Dayton, Ohio.

Luckily for him and the Knicks, the Cavaliers went to select Auburn’s defensive ace Isaac Okoro, who has been a revelation in the preseason so far.

Toppin, who dropped to the Knicks’ lap at No. 8, said he wouldn’t trade the opportunity to play for his hometown team for anything else in the world.

Family of Knicks fans

His mother, Roni Toppin, even tweeted a photo of him wearing a Latrell Sprewell jersey when he was a kid after the Knicks picked him.

Toppin’s grandfather Richard Riccardi used to bring Roni to the games.

“I still have a cassette of Go NY Go NY Go and a ticket from the ’93 (I think) playoffs,” Roni told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.

“[My father] is so proud of Obi. He tells everyone he meets, even the cashier at Costco,” Roni added.

Obi, by his estimate, has been to the Knicks games no more than five times. Roni’s last recollection of bringing Obi to The Garden was when Obadiah Sr., who goes by his streetball monicker Dunker’s Delight, competed as a finalist in The Last Man Standing.

Too bad they won’t be around when Toppin makes his Garden debut to the strict Covid-19 protocols that won’t allow fans to watch in the venue.

Roller coaster start

Toppin was spectacular in his Knicks debut, a 90-84 win against the Detroit Pistons last Friday night. The Brooklyn native had 11 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. But he followed that up with a dud two days later as the Pistons paid more attention to him.

“I just felt like I was rushing things a little bit more than I was in the first [game],” Toppin said. “I felt like I was a little settled and calm in the first game while in the second game, I was just trying to, basically, do too much. But I have to understand the pace of the game and just flow with that, do anything I can to help the team.

He’s eager to atone for his lackluster 1-of-9 shooting performance, including two clunkers from 30-feet deep.

“I feel comfortable shooting the three, not super far, not Steph Curry range, but I feel very, very comfortable shooting the three. My teammates found me in spots. I just have to make them. I’ve been working on them every single day, so when the time comes for me to make those shots, I may be able to make them. I just have to slow down and concentrate,” Toppin said.

Learning experience

Those first two games were a learning experience for him. He said he’s starting to get a feel of the NBA game.

Thibodeau saw Toppin’s eagerness to bounce back during their team practice following their 99-91 loss to the Pistons.

“Probably the biggest thing about being a pro is there’s gonna be ups and downs. It’s probably easier the first game. In the second game, he got attention on him,” Thibodeau said.

He added that Toppin could impact the game without shooting well.

“Again, he can score a number of different ways — he can score running the floor, he can score on the post, he can score off the drive, he can score with his jump shot. Mixing it up, scoring different ways, playing well defensively, try getting stops, getting on the open floor,” Thibodeau explained.

“He’s a terrific kid, a great worker. Study film. Each game, you may not win. And if you don’t win… I want you to learn. He took a hard look at himself. And what he could do better. He came in, study, work hard, and he had a great practice today [Tuesday]. And just be ready for tomorrow [Wednesday]. The games keep on coming. You have to keep on getting better.”

Toppin will put those lessons to test against the Cavaliers. Hopefully, he’ll ace it and come out with a win that will make his family of Knicks fans even prouder.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Bricks: Knicks suffer first loss under Thibodeau

After an impressive preseason debut, the New York Knicks went crashing back to earth following a 99-91 loss to the Detroit Pistons Sunday night. 

The defensive effort was nowhere near Friday night’s level as they fell to as many 15 points early on in this game. 

Shooting woes continue

The Knicks failed to dictate the tempo from the tip-off, with the Pistons setting the tone with their 2-3 zone. But it was a good test for the Knicks, as far as coach Tom Thibodeau is concerned.

“I like the situation we just went through because you’re playing the same team,’’ Thibodeau said. “Usually, you win a game against an opponent, and you play them again based on experiences in playoff basketball, that team comes with an edge. I felt that would happen. It did. I felt we were back on our heels at the start of the game. The start of the game really got us in a hole.’’

The slow start did the Knicks in.

They were able to make only 1 of 6 outside shots in the opening quarter. In contrast, the Pistons’ offense was blazing, sinking five treys, as they raced to a 31-20 start.

Overall, the Knicks only shot 8 of 33 from the three-point region. But it was a slight improvement from their 5 of 23 effort last Friday.

Starter Alec Burks is their best three-point threat by far, going 4 of 8 against the Pistons overall, including 3 of 5 Sunday night.

Rookie wall

Obi Toppin hit the rookie wall in his second preseason game. After energizing the bench last Friday, Toppin was part of the bench on Sunday that allowed the Pistons to break away for good.

Toppin wound up with only four points on 1 of 9 shooting and four rebounds this time.

“I don’t know if he was less active,’’ Thibodeau said of Toppin. “When the ball doesn’t go in for you, it can look that way. There are ups and downs in a season. We have a lot of players who measure everything with how it’s going offensively for them. You can’t do that in this league. There are some nights you shoot the ball better than others. When you don’t shoot it well, you have to have an understanding you can play well by doing other things.’’

The next two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers — the team that passed up on him at No. 5 — will give us the chance to see how he respond from a debacle.

Bench throws the monkey wrench

Toppin wasn’t the only one who struggled. Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox combined to shoot 2 of 11 from the field. Reggie Bullock went 1 of 7 from deep.

The Pistons outscored the Knicks’ bench, 60-26, with Sekou Doumbouya exploding for 23 points and five rebounds, while Derrick Rose added 11 points and eight assists.

“Some good and some bad tonight,’’ Thibodeau said of Smith’s play. “He wasn’t on the floor at the start of the game, and that’s what set the tone. [In] the second quarter, we got swallowed up, didn’t make good plays.’’

RJ getting more comfortable

The Knicks showed signs of life in the third quarter, with RJ Barrett and Alec Burks combining for 20 points. The Knicks were able to take a three-point lead momentarily on Julius Randle’s free throws at the two-minute mark, but Doumbouya willed the Pistons to tie the game 75-all. 

After allowing the Pistons to 31 first-quarter points on 11 of 20 field goals, the Knicks managed to limit them to only 68 points on just 37.5 percent shooting the rest of the way.

“I thought we played well in the third quarter. We had one good quarter of basketball,” Thibodeau said. “In the first game, we had 35, 36 minutes of good basketball. So we regressed today. We have to take with us what happened in this game. Look at it, learn from it, and make improvements.

After a horrible 0-6 start in the preseason, Barrett has since shot 17 of 27. He led the Knicks with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting and, more importantly, went 4 of 5 at the free-throw line.

In two games, Barrett has led the Knicks in scoring with 20 points per game. His free throw shooting has improved tremendously, hitting 5 of 7 overall so far. Last season, he only shot 61.4 percent from the line.

“It’s (speed of the game) a little slower,” Barrett said. “I’m a little more comfortable. I kind of know what to expect a little bit more.”

Quickley quickly impresses

The Pistons recognized that the Knicks’ Achilles heel is the point guard spot. Every time the Knicks’ point guards try to set the table, the Pistons sent an automatic double or even triple-double coverage at times.

The Knicks’ other rookie Immanuel Quickley made his much-anticipated debut. His lone assist in nine minutes of action came off a triple-double coverage sent to him on top of the arc that led to a wide-open Toppin triple.

Quickley’s debut line was a quiet two points, missing his lone three-point attempt, two rebounds, and an assist. But Thibodeau liked what he saw from the rookie guard out of Kentucky.

“I like him,’’ Thibodeau said. “[He had] some jitters early on. He’s not afraid of competing. We didn’t see him shoot the ball. He’s a knockdown shooter. We like to see more of those. We see him do it in practice all the time. When he raises up to shoot, you think it’s going in.’’

We should see more of Quickley when the Knicks will host the Cavaliers on Wednesday and Friday at the fan-less Madison Square Garden to wrap their preseason schedule. Both games will be aired live on MSG Network at 7:30 p.m. E.T.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Thibodeau wants to see more Randle-Toppin combo, Knicks defense

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

With 1:04 left in the second quarter in the New York Knicks‘ preseason opener, Tom Thibodeau pulled out starter Nerlens Noel and inserted back rookie Obi Toppin.

For the first time, Toppin and starting power forward Julius Randle shared the floor. Toppin played as a small-ball center against Detroit’s big man Mason Plumlee while Randle took on Blake Griffin.

Derrick Rose fished a foul from Randle during that brief spurt after the veteran point guard used a Griffin screen to free up from Elfrid Payton.

There was little action on the offensive side involving Randle and Toppin. Thibodeau has yet to decide on his rotation, but he said he wants to see more of that experiment when the Knicks take on the Pistons again on Sunday night.

“We’ll probably mix and match tomorrow. We haven’t decided yet completely how might that be. We want to see different combinations on the floor. It’s really like the first two teams we’re mixing and matching those guys. Who we start with might be different than who finish with. We wanna see, we have a look at Julius and Obi for a short sequence in the first half — experimenting that way is important for us also,” Thibodeau said on a zoom call with reporters on Saturday. “We’ll see. We’ll take it day by day.”

Thibodeau’s signature

The Knicks’ defensive rating of 112.4 last season ranked 23rd in the league. Last Friday night, Thibodeau was able to stamp his signature defense on the Knicks in just a short amount of time.

The Knicks put forth a defensive effort that wasn’t matched by their jittery offense.

“We know our defense is ahead of our offense right now. We’ve been drilling it non stop since training camp started. Just playing for each other helps a lot,” Randle said.

Noel was in the middle of it all, setting the tone for their defensive juggernaut that did not go for naught.

In his first start as a Knick, Noel had eight rebounds, six on the defensive end, one steal, and two shot blocks on top of his 10 points. Mitchell Robinson followed his lead as the third-year center came up with seven rebounds, four steals, and two blocks.

“It was a great start to build a good foundation. It was a testament to you, practice how you play. I think we had great preparation. The defense might be a little ahead of the offense but that is to be expected. Coach has definitely been working with us to make sure to take defense to a whole new level. Just making sure having that intensity and defensive focus,” Noel said.

Winning habits

Noel is already on his fourth team as an eight-year veteran but has only experienced the playoffs last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He wants to continue winning, and he knows it starts with habit-building, especially on the defensive end.

“We’ve made it a focal point in our practices. Have that defensive intensity from transition defense to talking, high-level communication. It’s gonna be contagious throughout the season to have that as a backbone because as we all know, you can make or miss shots from night to night. You just gotta put the work in all your shots and hope for the best but defense is an effort thing,” Noel said.

Their habits built during their short training camp were enough to sustain them in their first game together.

Players are creatures of habit.

Their active hands have resulted in 12 steals. Their swarming defense forced 22 turnovers, which they parlayed into 24 points, including 11 in transition.

Beginning of an old era

The Knicks won, but Thibodeau left the Little Caesar Arena dissatisfied after the Pistons put up a spirited rally at the end that fell short.

“Like all preseason games, there’s good and bad. We have to look at how we can improve today and tomorrow. So for our first game, we probably played 36, 37 minutes of good basketball, and you’re striving to be a 48-minute team. So there’s a lot of work to be done,” Thibodeau said.

“In every game, that will hold true. It’s important for us to understand that either win or lose, we make the necessary corrections, and we move forward.”

The Knicks of the ’90s have been known for this defensive toughness, and Thibodeau was a big part of that glorious past.

It may still be too early. The Knicks may not win a lot of games this coming season. But the Knicks we’ve been longing to see appears to be coming back.

Welcome back, Knicks basketball!

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Toppin, Knicks impressive in Thibodeau’s coaching return

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

Tom Thibodeau triumphantly returned to coaching while rookie Obi Toppin was electrifying in New York Knicks’ 90-84 preseason win against the Pistons Friday night at the Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit.

It didn’t look and feel like a preseason with Thibodeau coaching the Knicks hard in his first game back after nearly two years away from the game. Unveiling a suffocating defense, the new-look Knicks bucked a jittery start and led by as many as 18 points in the third quarter.

Electrifyin’ Toppin

Toppin came off the bench and energized the second unit with his athleticism and boundless energy.

The Brooklyn-born forward had to shrug off rookie jitters after missing his first two shots. He settled down right away and hustled his way to finish with 11 points highlighted by an emphatic dunk off a Kevin Knox feed.

He also grabbed seven rebounds in 20 minutes as Julius Randle’s backup.

“I thought he was very aggressive to start the game. [He] scored the ball, and then there was more attention. For his first game, I thought he did a lot of good things, and he saw when things work a certain way in the first half, sometimes it’s different in the second, and you have to read that as well,” Thibodeau said of Toppin’s first taste of NBA action. “But overall, very good. I loved his aggressiveness.”

RJ Barrett overcame a poor start to lead all scorers with 15 points and five boards. The Canadian wingman missed his first six shots and was 2-for-10 in the first half. But he hit his strides in the third quarter, teaming up with Alec Burks to lead the Knicks’ breakaway from a tight 48-47 halftime score.

The Pistons came charging back in the fourth quarter with their bench led by rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. The home team closed the gap, 85-79, on Stewart layup before Randle’s jumper with 34.8 seconds left clinched the Knicks’ victory.

Randle had a solid all-around game, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds, and six assists.

Centers of attention

The battle for the starting center spot will be interesting to watch as Nerlens Noel, and Mitchell Robinson alternately played a solid job anchoring the defense.

Noel had 10 points, eight rebounds, and two shot blocks as a starter, while Robinson came off the bench and turned in seven boards, four steals, two blocks, and two points in 22 minutes.

When asked what won Noel the starting job in this game, Thibodeau pointed to Noel’s elite rim protection and finishing at the basket.

“But I’m very pleased with Mitchell as well. So I think when you have two bigs that are like that, it’s a big bonus,” Thibodeau said. “And they’re very similar. I’m not sure who I’m gonna start, but I like both of those guys, and we’ll gonna need them to play well as a team.”

The Knicks’ signature Thibodeau defense held the Pistons to just 32.5 percent from the field. They had 12 steals and six blocks, forcing 22 turnovers and translated that to 19 points. They were also active on the glass, outrebounding the Pistons, 54-41. But the Knicks also got sloppy, and there were times Thibodeau wasn’t happy and even took his mask off to show his displeasure.

Thibodeau coached with a regular-season game intensity yelling and going after the referees after a bad call.

Payton’s job to lose

Elfrid Payton did a solid all-around job at the point, producing 10 points, six rebounds, and seven assists.

Dennis Smith Jr. looked more comfortable with his jumper, hitting a three-pointer in a seven-point effort off the bench.

With Austin Rivers sidelined by a groin injury, Frank Ntilikina spelled Barrett and finished with seven points and five boards.

Thibodeau used 11 players, with the Knicks’ other first-round pick Immanuel Quickley receiving a DNP.

Thibodeau and his staff will continue evaluating the roster when the Knicks play the Pistons again on Sunday at 7 p.m. E.T.

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