Tom Thibodeau has talked about his desire to see different combinations on the floor, finding out how players mesh together. And Knicks fans, absent from Madison Square Garden for the home preseason debut of this team Wednesday night, have expressed their desire, too, flooding social media with pleas for the new head coach to play the team’s young players.
The two desires came in sync late Wednesday night when the Knicks fell behind a shorthanded Cavaliers squad by as many as 18 points. So with seven minutes left and the Knicks still down by seven points, Thibodeau came out of a timeout with five of his youngest players grouped together.
Rookie Immanuel Quickley was at point guard, alongside RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and fellow rookie Obi Toppin. The only players who would have slipped into the five youngest were Frank Ntilikina, who was held out of the game with a sore left Achilles, and Iggy Brazdeikis, who has yet to see the court in any of the three exhibition games.
And with that group together the Knicks ran and hustled and finished the game on a 21-7 run, turning what had been a miserable night into a 100-93 win at the empty arena.
"I thought the spirit, the fight, we got going off our defense," Thibodeau said. "And I thought Quick was terrific – ball pressure, the fact that he can shoot the way he can, it opens up the floor. Once we got some energy from getting stops, I thought that gave us a lot more energy on offense. I thought Mitchell protected the rim. He did a good job playing with the five fouls as well."
The Knicks found energy from odd sources as often-maligned Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. helped start the comeback by playing with effort on the defensive end and then hitting three-pointers to cut into the lead. But the Knicks seemed to take over when Smith exited the game and Quickley, who enters the league with more of a reputation as a shooter than a floor general, took over at point guard.
The rookie guard shot just 3-for-10, but handed out seven assists. six coming in the fourth quarter.
"I’ve been a point guard all my life," Quickley said. "I feel I’m versatile playing off the ball, on the ball. I have great vets around me with off court and on-court situations and I come from a great school, the University of Kentucky. Coach [John Calipari] pushed us every single day, [assistant coach] Kenny Payne, to where we have to fight for what we want – minutes played. With all that, I just came out and tried to play hard."
"I’ve said this several times," Thibodeau said. "I think when you look at the point guard position now in the NBA it’s a lot different than it was, say 10 years ago. You have all different types of point guards. You have the pass-first guys, you’ve got the scoring guys, you’ve got the power guys that get downhill. I think Quick falls into that category.
"I don’t know whether he’s a point guard or shooting guard. But he’s a guard. He’s very smart and he’s tough. I think you can put the ball in his hands. He can run the offense, he can play off the ball. And that’s what makes him hard to guard. You’re going to have to guard him off the dribble and you’re going to have to guard him off catch and shoot as well. He’s getting better and better. Very productive."