While much of the NBA has struggled to navigate its way through the pandemic, losing players to positive tests for COVID-19 and even more to health and safety protocols and contact tracing issues, the Knicks have managed to make it through the first 24 games without having a player miss a game because of the virus.
That has allowed the team forge a semblance of stability as it learns to play together under coach Tom Thibodeau.
"We’re able to continue to work hard every day and learn each other more and more, and it’s not something you can take for granted," RJ Barrett said. "We’re very appreciative of it and hope it continues."
Elfrid Payton followed up a 20-point effort Wednesday with 22 points Saturday. He has struggled with his outside shooting much of the season, but in these two games, he has aggressively gotten into the paint and done damage there.
"It’s huge and it’s one of his strengths," Thibodeau said. "I think his size is problematic and it puts pressure on the defense. And if you can force the defense to collapse, it’ll create easy scoring opportunities for us, whether it be his scoring or the shots they can get off of it. Also, it leads to second shots. So when he’s pushing the ball and getting into the paint, it creates havoc. And then he has the responsibility of making the proper rim read once he gets there, and he’s done that."
When Payton makes at least five field goals in a game, the Knicks are 9-2, according to MSG Networks.
Thibodeau high on Gibson
Nerlens Noel sat out with a sore left knee. Taj Gibson replaced him and earned praise from his coach.
"Nerlens out today and Taj steps right in and does a terrific job," Thibodeau said. "He’s a great teammate. He’s always ready, and when he’s not playing, he adds so much to practice. He keeps everyone united and working hard. So his contributions to the team, all those guys who are not playing much, we can’t overlook that. It’s a critical part of the team."