Tom Thibodeau has a well-deserved reputation for having a fondness for veterans. Even as he has taken over a Knicks squad that is among the youngest in the NBA, he still often leans on the players who have been there before.
He rode point guard Elfrid Payton for much of the game Monday night as the Knicks faced the Atlanta Hawks in the last stop of a four-game road trip. With 3:51 to play in the third quarter, Payton had played nearly the entire game and had thrown up more shots than anyone else in the game.
He also had missed more than anyone else, shooting 6-for-18 and playing no small part in the 11-point hole in which the Knicks found themselves.
So Thibodeau turned to rookie Immanuel Quickley, who had played only 3 minutes and 38 seconds to that point. Almost immediately, the game turned.
The Knicks closed to within four points by the end of the quarter and needed only a few minutes to push in front in the fourth quarter. Quickley then put the Knicks ahead to stay with clutch free throws, and the Knicks escaped with a 113-108 win over the Hawks.
Quickley scored 16 points — 15 in the final 16 minutes — and showed that Thibodeau can have faith in rookies, too. He didn’t leave the floor until the final minute and hardly showed a hint of his inexperience, hitting all six of his free throws and adding a pair of three-point field goals.
"It just shows there’s a lot of trust," Quickley said. "I feel like coming from Kentucky, you got to do the same thing with Coach [John] Calipari — you have to earn his trust offensively and defensively.
"When a coach sticks you in in the fourth quarter, it means he trusts you, especially as a point guard, when you have to lead the guys. You try to be a leader off and on the floor. Hopefully I’ll continue to do that."
Asked what led him to trust Quickley, Thibodeau said, "He can shoot." Then he allowed himself a laugh.
"I thought he played really well," Thibodeau said. "He doesn’t have his timing yet. He was out for quite a bit. But he’s fighting through things. His shot-making ability puts a lot of pressure on people and it opens things up. And then, of course, his ability to draw fouls.
"But I thought that whole group, the way they fought, particularly the group at the end of the third quarter, they got us going. We got the ball moving a little bit, started making plays for each other. We knocked down a couple threes and then the defense took off after this. This team puts a lot of pressure on you and we found a way to win. We didn’t play great but we found a way to win. I love the fight in the team."
Julius Randle led the Knicks (4-3) with 28 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists. RJ Barrett added 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. The Knicks went 3-1 on their road trip and have won four of five since their 0-2 start.
Trae Young had 31 points and 14 assists and DeAndre Hunter added 23 points for the Hawks (4-3).
Quickley was the first point guard off the bench for the Knicks on opening night, entering with 3:27 remaining in the first quarter. But after he absorbed a blow to his hip in a collision, the process was put on hold. After four games off, he was back when the Knicks faced Indiana again on Saturday night.
"I was able to just learn, watching the game, the little details of it," he said in a Zoom call before the game Monday night.
"Being a rookie, you just want to soak up any information you can — on the court, off the court — just being able to take a little bit of time off. I missed being out on the floor with my guys. But that last game was really fun to just go out there and be with my team. But any time you’re off, you want to take full advantage of it and get better."