BOSTON — The Knicks found a way to end a four-game losing streak Thursday night in Houston even after one player after another had been put in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
But they had to face the reality that all problems are not solved by a win over the Rockets. Almost as soon as the high-fives were complete, there was another round of bad news.
Immanuel Quickley, who had scored 24 points off the bench Thursday and spoken about his efforts to remain cautious, joined the list of Knicks players in health and safety protocols.
Even with the emergence of rookie Miles McBride in an emergency fill-in role in Houston, the good feelings were countered by the team’s next task as it left for Boston and Saturday night’s game. Quickley joins Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes and Kevin Knox on the list — and Derrick Rose had to sit out the second half against Houston with a sore right ankle.
It was a harsh reminder of what the entire league is facing. Before being put in the protocols, when asked if he was on edge about being on the road with the virus raging, Quickley said, "Yeah, it’s definitely crazy right now. I’ve been showering with my mask on. Which is crazy itself. I just try to keep it on and hopefully it will keep me safe. I try to be as cautious as I can. I keep my mask on all the time."
It is not just the Knicks battling through the health and safety protocols. The Celtics announced Thursday that Al Horford, Grant Williams and Jabari Parker would miss Friday night’s game against Golden State.
Toppin was the first Knick to test positive this season, with Barrett a day behind him. The NBA requires either 10 days after the positive test or two negative tests at least 24 hours apart for a vaccinated player to return.
"Whatever the medical people [say]," Tom Thibodeau said. "Obviously, they have to go through protocol. When they get cleared by the league and our medical people, safety is first. Whatever we have to do, we’ve got to do."
So can the Knicks (13-16) find their way out of this hole and regain the form they had last season, when they went 41-31 and were considered a bright light in the NBA, an overachieving feel-good story?
"You can’t look at that," Taj Gibson said of the past — last season and this season’s early struggles. "That’s why the East is the East — it got even more competitive. You’ve got to take it one game at a time. People didn’t believe in us last year and we did the opposite last year. This year is no different. We have to take it one game at a time.
"We understand the bandwagon is empty. We understand a lot of people are counting us out. That’s nothing. We believe in ourselves. Believe in the group and then try to just get better day by day. Can’t look at nothing, can’t listen to what everybody is saying. That’s what comes with the NBA. It’s going to be up and down. So it’ll be tough nights, but as a group we’re going to stay together, work through our faults, work through our flaws and continue to play hard."
Last season’s leaders, Julius Randle and Barrett, have struggled to regain their form. Free agents Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier have not fit. Walker went from the starting lineup to out of the rotation and has been buried at the end of the bench, but if Rose cannot play Saturday, it will be a test of Thibodeau’s decision not to play him.
But just as Quickley emerged last season, Grimes and McBride have shown something when given a chance.
"Without a doubt, everybody’s mind is in the right place," Quickley said Thursday. "Everybody’s as positive as they can be. Nobody wants to lose. If we do everything consistently every time, we’ll eventually break through. Everybody has to keep staying with it and coming to work each day and working hard."