Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images, AP Photo

The New York Knicks dropped their fifth-straight game in a loss to the Pelicans, but the night was overshadowed by who wasn’t on the floor.

Danny Small

NEW YORK, NY—A return to the World’s Most Famous Arena didn’t give the New York Knicks the lift they needed to secure their first win since New Year’s Day. In fact, the New Orleans Pelicans were the ones who felt right at home in Madison Square Garden, drilling 18 threes en route to a 123-111 victory.

Brandon Ingram took centerstage, racking up 28 points, dishing out nine assists, and connecting on five of his nine three-point attempts. His length presented matchup problems for Bobby Portis and Kevin Knox. The Pelicans needed Ingram to step up on a night when stars on both teams were notably absent.

When ESPN circled this game on the calendar, it was supposed to be Zion Williamson‘s NBA debut in the Garden. Instead, the world has to settle for videos of Williamson working out on the floor before the game.

RJ Barrett was asked if he had seen the between-the-legs dunk from Williamson. He hadn’t, but he’s quite familiar with the high-flying antics of his college teammate. Although he has “absolutely no clue” when Zion is going to be back on the floor, Barrett can’t wait to see his close friend return to the court.

“I talked to him today and it was great to see him,” Barrett told reporters. “Gave him a big hug and he was really happy. I just, I really want him back and I really hope to see him back on the court real soon.”

Williamson appears to be close to a return although there’s no official date set yet. Making his NBA debut in the Garden would have been a special moment.

Ratings are down in the NBA this season and while it’s difficult to parse out the exact reasons for this decline, a nationally televised game between two bottomfeeders without their stars can’t be drawing in viewers in record numbers.

The shorthanded Pelicans were without Williamson and Jrue Holiday, but the Knicks weren’t playing with a full deck either. Two aces, Julius Randle and Marcus Morris Sr. were both out as well. Any team playing without its two leading scorers is going to be fighting an uphill battle.

Randle is away from the team for personal reasons and Morris is dealing with a sore neck that has kept him out of the last three contests.

Much like a normal night in MSG, media poured into the Knicks’ locker room for postgame availability after the loss. However, without Randle and Morris, there was a certain emptiness in the locker room.

Taj Gibson filled that void on and off the court to a certain extent. The Brooklyn native had one of his best games in a Knicks uniform, notching a season-high 19 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting night. The veteran knows the ups and downs of the NBA as well as anyone and he’s preaching a message of togetherness to his squad.

“Just got to weather the storm, especially with the number of guys we got down, a lot of guys we got banged up,” Gibson told reporters after the game. “It’s all about guys stepping up, young guys getting better. We all just try to keep pushing each other, bring each other in as a whole instead of separating. That’s what we’ve been doing, bringing everyone in as a whole, keep developing, and getting ready for the next one.”

The next one won’t be easy on Gibson and the Knicks. The Miami Heat are coming into MSG after losing a heartbreaker to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. Miami is one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Rest assured, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and the Heat will be coming at the Knicks full bore on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET).

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.