When Kemba Walker was introduced in the starting lineup Tuesday night, marking another return from a long absence, the Madison Square Garden crowd greeted him with loud cheers.
For the Knicks, there may have been a little bit of a celebration to get any true point guard onto the floor. They have struggled through inconsistencies and much of it hinges on sloppy and low-energy stretches when it seems that there is no leadership.
Walker returned after missing nine games because of a sore left knee. Earlier this season he sat for 10 straight games while Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau opted to experiment with Alec Burks at point guard (and then Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride when the NBA’s health and safety protocol began to strip the roster). Derrick Rose has been limited to only 26 games after undergoing ankle surgery on Dec. 16.
While Thibodeau has spoken recently of a desire to have a point guard he can rely on rather than the in-and-out appearances that the Knicks have been left with, getting Walker back did seem to provide a boost. He began the game with a tough shot in the lane and then drove through the defense, floating a lob to Mitchell Robinson for a dunk. Late in the loss to Minnesota he connected on three three-pointers in a two-minute span, providing a lift before the Knicks' late collapse.
With the Knicks turning the ball over 13 times in the first half and RJ Barrett, who has been their best player of late, piling up seven turnovers, a steady hand would certainly help.
"It means a lot," Thibodeau said of getting Walker back. "For a player like that, [we] get strong point guard play, great shooting, playmaking. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense, forces them to put two on the ball."
But the problem remains: What is next for Walker? It is a risk the Knicks knew they were taking when they signed him after he spent last season with the Boston Celtics, where the team restricted him from playing in back-to-back games. After the 10-game absence, he returned and played six games and piled up big minutes out of necessity, including a back-to-back set in Minnesota and Detroit before he said something felt wrong in warmups before the next game in Oklahoma City, forcing this latest shutdown.
"We’ll see. We’ll see down the line," Walker said. "It really just depends on how I feel. I know I played the back-to-back, I just felt good enough to play. But yeah, just going off how I feel.’
Rose is slowly working his way back but remains weeks away from a return. If Walker can’t be relied on for every game, the Knicks are, as they have been for years, searching for a point guard answer. With the trade deadline less than a month away and the roster crowded with wing players after the trade for Cam Reddish, the Knicks will certainly be listening. And with the uncertainty at the position, they endure games like Tuesday night when they started slowly and sloppily and then couldn't execute at the finish. Walker's three-point field goal with 3:40 remaining was their last basket.
"It was us. Mostly. It was us," Evan Fournier said of the troubles. "Don’t get me wrong, [Minnesota] did things to rush us and then not execute as well. It’s not the first time we played against a team like that. That was huge for us, that’s why we went down."
Notes & quotes: The Knicks announced Wednesday that they have signed guard Ryan Arcidiacono to a 10-day contract and waived Solomon Hill . . . The team assigned McBride to Westchester.