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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Knicks overcome a Lakers comeback effort to secure a much-needed win

The starters started hot and the bench finished strong. It wasn’t a perfect performance for the New York Knicks, but a win is a win. The Knicks were able to hold off the Los Angeles Lakers 106-100 in their final game before Thanksgiving.

It counts the same on the final ledger, even if LeBron James was sidelined with a suspension and Anthony Davis was slowed down by a non-COVID illness.

After a fast start, it looked like the Knicks might run away with this one. Evan Fournier, Julius Randle, and RJ Barrett all started the game off hot. Despite slowing down in the second half, that trio still combined to score 58 points. Seeing these three play well together is a good sign for the Knicks moving forward.

Russell Westbrook did his best Energizer Bunny impression in the second half, scoring 25 points en route to a 31-point triple-double. Davis shrugged off a slow start to drop seven fourth-quarter points as well.

Despite going up by as many as 24 in the first half, the Knicks left the door ajar for a Lakers comeback. Thankfully for the hometown Knicks fans, the bench trio of Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin slammed the door shut in the fourth quarter.

Outside of a handful of minutes for rookie wing Quentin Grimes, the Burks-Quickley-Toppin triumvirate were the only guys to come off the bench for New York. They combined for 38 points, highlighted by four three-pointers from IQ to seal the game in the fourth quarter.

And let’s not forget Derrick Rose either. Although he missed this game due to injury, the trio of Rose-Burks-Quickley is fourth in the NBA in net rating among lineups with 200 or more minutes played together.

Where would the Knicks be without this bench unit? Definitely not at 10-8 for the season. The starters are still smoothing out the rough edges as the unit looks to build chemistry. However, the bench’s continuity from last year helped them hit the ground running.

It’s no surprise that Tom Thibodeau is so stubborn about keeping this group together. With the starters struggling, there have been calls to make a change. But again, a change to the starters could disrupt the chemistry of the second unit — the very best thing about the Knicks right now.

Eventually, Quickley is going to have to start eating into Kemba Walker‘s minutes. The Knicks rolled out the red carpet for Walker upon his return home, but the lovefest hasn’t translated to a bounce-back on the court. The Bronx native doesn’t have the downhill burst he once had and he can be a liability on defense in certain switch-heavy schemes.

The Knicks have better options, but we expect him to be a fixture in the starting lineup all the same. The chemistry of the bench is too important to break up. The fix for the Knicks would be to start allocating more of Walker’s second-half minutes to Rose, Quickley, and/or Burks.

But those are questions the Knicks can wait to answer. They have two days off before a back-to-back with the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks. They can enjoy some turkey and stuffing in the meantime.