OG Anunoby #8 of the New York Knicks dunks the...

OG Anunoby #8 of the New York Knicks dunks the ball during the second quarter against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

New year, new Knicks.

On the first day of 2024 and the first day with OG Anunoby in uniform, the Knicks beat the Timberwolves, 112-106, on Monday at Madison Square Garden.

It was only one game, of course, but there were early signs that the blockbuster trade the Knicks made with the Raptors on Saturday will work out.

The Timberwolves (24-8) have the best record in the Western Conference and the best defensive rating in the NBA, so this was a keeper for the Knicks (18-15).

There were plenty of standouts, notably Julius Randle, who had 39 points and took over down the stretch, and Jalen Brunson, who had a career-high 14 assists.

But all eyes were on Anunoby, who arrived with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn in a deal that sent RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and a 2024 second-round draft pick to Toronto.

Anunoby did not disappoint, totaling 17 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 4:12 left. He had four dunks and three corner three-pointers.

Fans greeted him warmly before and during the game, and when he fouled out.

Asked what he will remember most from the experience other than the win, he said, “I guess the fans. Fan love, definitely that.”

The new guy also got plenty of love from his coach and teammates. Asked how Anunoby fit in, Brunson said, “Great. He was great on both sides of the ball. So give him credit. I think for everyone, all of [the newcomers], it’s only going to go up from here.

“There’s a lot of terminology and basketball stuff that we can obviously teach him, but he has all the tools.”

Coach Tom Thibodeau has tinkering to do with his rotation, and it began on Monday with an attempt to decouple Randle and Brunson at times.

Brunson ran for a stretch with the second unit, which worked out well when the Knicks outscored the Timberwolves 38-17 in the second quarter after trailing by as many as 11 points in the first quarter.

At halftime, Brunson was plus-21 in scoring margin when he was on the court. “I don’t really care what the situation is, who I’m playing with,” he said. “The guys I’m on the court with, I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can.”

Brunson was 5-for-23 from the field, including 1-for-9 on three-pointers, en route to his 16 points.

Anthony Edwards scored 35 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 29 for Minnesota.

The Knicks had led by as many as 22 in the third quarter, but the Timberwolves drew to within 99-95 with 6:40 left.

Randle answered with consecutive baskets to put the Knicks up by eight. He later hit a jumper at the shot-clock buzzer to make it 106-97, then iced it with a driving layup for a three-point play that gave the Knicks a 110-102 lead with 23 seconds left. He scored 11 straight Knicks points in that span and had 12 in the final 5:09.

“It was just an opportunity for me to be aggressive off the pick-and-roll when they were blitzing Jalen,” Randle said. “On the back side when he swung it back to me, it was a chance for me to be aggressive and get downhill and get to my spots.”

Teammates razzed Randle in the locker room for missing a free throw with 3.1 seconds left that would have given him 40 points. “I smoked the free throw for 40,” he said.

Randle eventually got so exasperated by comments from teammates about the miss that he good-naturedly ended his interview session abruptly.

It was that kind of day for the Knicks. Smiles all around. “Very good start,” Thibodeau said.

Whether it was beginner’s luck or the start of something big will be determined in the days and weeks to come.


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