The Knicks’ most memorable facial expression Wednesday night might have been Tom Thibodeau’s when he seemed in danger of exploding on the sideline. But maybe the most important one was the smile from rookie Immanuel Quickley.
While the coach was gruffly demanding performance from his team — successfully — Quickley was simply having fun. With the game in the balance, he scored 11 points in a fourth-quarter flurry to turn a one-point lead into a double-digit advantage as the Knicks coasted to a much-needed 113-94 win over the Bulls.
Whether it was Thibodeau’s hard-driving urging or Quickley’s calm, the Knicks managed to get the victory and head out on the road on a positive note.
"I always try to go in and play free," Quickley said. "Having fun is probably the biggest thing I emphasize for myself every time I’m on the floor. But really I think I passed up a lot of open shots in the first half. And I wanted to make sure that whenever I went in, I made sure I was aggressive, whether that was creating for myself or creating for teammates."
He was, as he almost always is. Despite being a late first-round pick this season, he never has lacked confidence. And despite Quickley’s sometimes questionable decision-making or shot choices, Thibodeau always has had confidence in him, too.
When the Knicks drafted him and got him in camp, Thibodeau opened eyes with a proclamation about him.
"I think the one thing is he’s got a great skill already," Thibodeau said in a Zoom call in early December. "He can shoot the ball as well as anyone in the league. He’s a great shooter."
The numbers aren’t always great. Quickley is shooting 39.4% overall and 38.7% from three-point range. His floater has cooled down, too, as teams have adjusted to how he plays.
During the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak, he endured a five-game stretch in which he played only 14.2 minutes and averaged 5.
2 points. But the last five games have brought a turnaround: 52.4% shooting overall and 50.0% from beyond the arc.
The Knicks squandered an 18-point lead Wednesday, falling behind in the third quarter before managing to take a one-point lead into the start of the fourth quarter. With a second unit that struggled earlier in the game, Quickley never hesitated, combining with fellow rookie Obi Toppin and some veterans to provide an energy boost.
"I feel like in the huddle a lot of it was just everybody was trying to pick each other’s energy up," Quickley said of the gathering before the start of the fourth quarter. "We felt like when we were up, our energy was all, you know, giddy, giddy and everybody was hyped. But they made that run and we just wanted to make sure that we kept that same energy. No matter what’s going on in the game, we try to keep each other’s backs and make sure that our energy is high because when our energy is high, we feed off each other and we play well."
"He’s big-time," RJ Barrett said. "Especially in the fourth. He really gave us a good push there, got us a good lead on his own. It was good. We got going. We were looking for him. And he just continued."