The New York Knicks came out hot but left the arena ice cold in their opening night loss. Here are four important takeaways from the night.
If Wednesday night was any indication, the New York Knicks are going to have a rollercoaster season. The young Knickerbockers were humming in the first half, putting up 66 points and giving the playoff-tested Indiana Pacers all they could handle.
But the second half was a different story and that’s putting it lightly.
The offense turned anemic in the third quarter and the Knicks only managed to score 16 points in the frame. The shots stopped falling, the balls stopped bouncing their way, and one big injury seemed to change everything.
Let’s take a look at five key takeaways from opening night.
RJ Barrett is the Real Deal
Despite the loss, Barrett’s season-opener was an eye-opener. He was nearly perfect in the first half, drilling all eight of his shots and all three of his triples for 20 points. The only blemish on his stat line was one missed free throw in the first 24 minutes.
Like the rest of his teammates, Barrett cooled off in the second half, but he was still effective. He finished with 26 points on 15 shots to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
Although Barrett can take a massive leap forward this season, even without a major improvement on his three-point shot, the sky is the limit if Wednesday night was any indication.
The second-year wing is playing with a massive chip on his shoulder this year and it showed in Indiana.
The Best Version of Julius Randle
Aside from foul trouble, this was one of Julius Randle‘s better games in a Knicks uniform. As he moves down a rung in the offensive pecking order to make room for Barrett, he becomes a much more effective player.
This might come as a shock to no one, but the Knicks are thin at point guard this year (more on that later). Randle’s ability to play point forward could help mitigate some of the issues the Knicks have among their lead guards.
Randle came within a hair of a triple-double, tallying 17 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. If he can cut down on the turnovers (he had five), he will have a massive impact on this team offensively.
Due to foul trouble to Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson, Randle was forced into some small-ball five action. That led to a bit of foul trouble for the Kentucky product. But all in all, Randle looked like the best version of himself on Wednesday.
The Knicks PG Situation is Concerning
A lot of Knicks fans are going to be upset that Payton is starting over Quickley but it was always a stretch to assume that preseason games against G Leaguers would vault IQ into the starting lineup for game one
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) December 23, 2020
Although it’s not surprising to see head coach Tom Thibodeau give the nod to Payton over Quickley in game one, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before IQ takes over. Payton’s five turnovers outweighed his three assists and the Knicks had little offensive flow with him on the court.
There is a different kind of energy on the court when Quickley takes charge of the offense and his shooting stroke definitely helps space the floor for his teammates. Unfortunately, the rookie left the game with a hip pointer and only played 12 minutes — all in the first half.
The offense collapsed without Quickley in the lineup and Thibodeau’s hesitancy to play anyone else at point guard was obvious. He ended up tapping Alec Burks to lead the second unit in Quickley’s absence. Burks played well overall, scoring 22 points on 12 shots, but he’s not a point guard.
Quickley is showing promise, but the Knicks’ point guard situation is still concerning.
Win or Learn
In his postgame press conference, Thibodeau dropped a quote that we might hear a lot this season.
Tom Thibodeau on the loss:
“You either win or you learn.”
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) December 24, 2020
There is no sugarcoating it — the Knicks are going to lose a lot more than they will win this year. However, if they are learning and improving from these losses, that’s still a step in the right direction.
Rebuilding teams need to find positives to take away from losses. Barrett, Randle, and even Burks off the bench represent a few bright spots in an otherwise rough game.
Moral victories tend to lose their luster as the season progresses, but opening night is not the time to freak out about a loss. They didn’t win, but hopefully, they learned. That’s all Thibodeau can ask for at this point.
- Obi Toppin‘s debut left something to be desired. He drilled three of his high-arcing three-pointers on seven attempts, but he was 0-for-5 on twos. Although he’s older than each of the Knicks’ last three lottery picks, it’s clearly going to take time for him to get acclimated to the NBA. It’s a step up from Atlantic 10 competition, that’s for sure.
- Domantas Sabonis owns the Knicks. Whether he was baiting Robinson into cheap fouls or cleaning up the glass, New York had no answer for the All-Star big. Sabonis notched 32 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists.
- Myles Turner refused to give the Knicks open looks at the rim. Although quiet on offense, Turner put his imprint on the game with eight blocks and eight rebounds.
The Knicks return to the Big Apple for a back-to-back at Madison Square Garden. They face the Philadelphia 76ers in their home opener on Saturday and it’s worth noting that New York’s last win over Philly came in April of 2017. Sixers point forward Ben Simmons is 11-0 against the Knicks in his career.
And there’s no respite for the Knicks on Sunday. They will host the Milwaukee Bucks and two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak recently signed the largest contract in NBA history to stay in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future.