Jalen Brunson sat out his second game in a row with a sore left foot on Tuesday night as the Knicks hosted the Hornets at the Garden.
Immanuel Quickley, off his transcendent, 55-minute performance in the Knicks’ 131-129 double overtime victory in Boston on Sunday night, started again in place of Brunson.
The Knicks are heading to Sacramento on Wednesday to begin a four-game West Coast swing. Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Brunson, who is day-to-day, will be on the plane in the hopes that he can return during the trip.
“[Brunson is] much better today, but not quite ready,” Thibodeau said before the game. “So we'll see where he is tomorrow.”
Quickley was among the nominees for the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week. But the honor went to Julius Randle, who averaged 29.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists as the Knicks went 3-0 last week. Randle hit a game-winning three-pointer with 1.1 seconds left on Friday in Miami.
The Knicks had won nine in a row going into Tuesday. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the task of facing the Knicks is “different” without Brunson on the floor. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy right now.
“I think they're a lot different just because you don't have both [Brunson and Randle],” he said “It's not one or the other. [But with Quickley] it doesn't impact their depth. He was great the other night. He started off well and [played well] at the end of the game and the overtime. He had this stretch where he had seven straight points and he's played like that in stretches before since he's been here. I would say Jalen is, to coach against, obviously one of the two guys you concentrate on, but certainly Quickley is capable of a big night and they have other guys, too.”
On Sunday, Quickley finished with a career-high 38 points. His minutes total was the most by any player in the NBA this season.
“It's not like he just came out of nowhere,” Thibodeau said of the third-year guard. “We love our depth. The next guy, get in there and get it done. We know Quick gave us a great game.
“It’s not like he just came out of nowhere,” Thibodeau said of the third-year guard. “We love our depth. The next guy, get in there and get it done. We know Quick gave us a great game.
Josh Hart picked up the court time slack, playing 39:46 and scoring 10 points. The Knicks went into Tuesday undefeated in nine games since Hart joined the team. Hart was already respected around the league and his unblemished time in the big town has only added to that.
“I think he's a winning player,” Clifford said of Hart. “I think he plays at both ends. He’s shot the ball over here so far, but I think he has the ability to defend primary scorers, which right now, if you want to talk about playoff series, that's a big deal . . . I think he would be viewed across the league as he does the little things. I think he’s a great teammate. Plays with purpose and energy every night.”
Clifford was an assistant with the Knicks at the same time as Thibodeau and also worked with him as an assistant in Houston.
“We weren't just friends,” Clifford said. “He's a mentor to me. He's the one that took me under his wing. He taught me how to do everything from make notes when you watch film — ‘don't make it up, you know? — to help me when I was scouting. When I would screw stuff up, he'd be the one that would call my first couple of years. How to work guys out. So he's a friend, but he's very much a mentor.”
The Hornets came into the game at 20-46 (but Thibodeau pointed out they were 5-5 in their last 10).
Did anyone say “trap game?”
“I think every game’s a trap game,” Thibodeau said. “But to me it's to understand — and it's human nature, too — you let your guard down just a little bit, you're going to slip. So you can't let your guard down. The league it too good.”