Coaches regularly say that a player finishing a game often can be more significant than one who starts. That never felt more evident than with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s point-guard employment in Saturday’s 119-107 victory in Oklahoma City.
With Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose both out of the lineup, Frank Ntilikina got his second start of the season but played just seven minutes (with zero points) after committing two early fouls.
Rookie Immanuel Quickley, playing despite being questionable for the game with a sore groin, finished with 21 points and four assists in a career-high 33 minutes off the bench. Alec Burks also earned some minutes on the ball, finishing with 15 points in 27 minutes.
“I thought we needed everyone’s minutes tonight, pretty much,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks improved to 20-19. “Going into the game, I didn’t know who we would have.
“So we mapped it out with Frank and Quick and Alec. And I thought that was Alec’s first time really handling the ball, running the point. And I thought he did a terrific job or us, as well. That’s what I like about all of those guys, the versatility of the group. It gives you a lot of options.”
Rose missed his fourth straight game bridging the All-Star breaks due to NBA health and safety protocols, although the Knicks still have not revealed whether he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Payton sat out with a sore hamstring, an injury that also forced him to miss four games last month. He and Quickley both participated in pregame warm-ups, but only the latter was able to play.
“I think it’s just over time. So he’s got to monitor it and continue to take care of all the things that he has to do,” Thibodeau said about Quickley’s hamstring issue. “I think it’s normal through the course of a season. We’ve got a great medical staff. He’s been diligent, taking care of his body. Just continue to do those things.”
Centers Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson recorded virtually identical stat lines with two points, eight rebounds and one blocked shot each in 24 minutes apiece.
“Taj gave us great minutes, Nerlens gave us the rim protection,” Thibodeau said. “We had a lot of guys step up and just found a way to win.”