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Knicks' Obi Toppin off to a high-flying start in second season

New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin dunks against

New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin dunks against the Boston Celtics during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

You’ve got to love Obi Toppin’s honesty.

Toppin, less than an hour removed from his biggest game as a Knick, admitted Wednesday night that he didn’t have the right mindset at the start of his NBA career last season. The eighth pick overall in the 2020 draft, he apparently was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.

"After the All-Star break, I kind of told myself I’ve been playing basketball my whole life. I have an opportunity to play in the NBA. You just got to breathe, calm down and just do what I’ve been doing my whole life," Toppin said. "I’ve put in the work to get here. I just got to keep going.

"Once I had that mindset, everything started to slow down a little bit for me. I feel like things are starting to slow down a lot more this year."

The game may have slowed down, but Toppin certainly hasn’t. Few players of his size — he’s 6-9 and weighs 220 pounds — can move the way he does. This was repeatedly on display Wednesday as Toppin scored a career-high 14 points in the Knicks’ 138-134 double-overtime win over the Celtics.

During a 21-6 second-half run by the Knicks, Toppin scored nine points, including two dunks. The most impressive was a poster dunk over Payton Pritchard that practically sent Knicks fans into convulsions as they broke out in "Obi! Obi! Obi!" chants.

"I thought he changed the pace of the game," Kemba Walker said. "He’s a very special talent, and he can run. He can really run and get out in the open floor."

The performance was a stunning contrast from last season, when Toppin averaged 4.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11 minutes. All through training camp, his teammates and coaches talked about how much he has improved. On Wednesday, he backed them up with a high-flying athleticism.

"He’s an incredible athlete," Tom Thibodeau said. "I think he’s in great shape this year."

With the Knicks missing centers Nerlens Noel (sore knee) and Taj Gibson (personal reasons), Thibodeau decided to go small in the third quarter and play Toppin alongside Julius Randle. It was that combination that ignited the Knicks’ big run.

"Julius tells me when I’m on the open court with him, if I see the rebound, take off," Toppin said. "That’s what I do best. I run the floor. So every chance I get, I’m getting out in the open floor . . . I feel like some of the guys on the other team, they don’t take plays off, but they get back very slowly. And I’m taking advantage. I’m just going. We have guys who find me running the floor. Those are easy points."

Knicks fans are hoping to see a lot more easy points from Toppin. After going through what he did last season, it was almost like a dream come true.

"To hear your name chanted in the Garden is amazing," he said. "It’s an unbelievable experience I can’t even explain. It’s just something you got to live through."

Randle fined. Randle was fined $15,000 for throwing the ball into the stands in celebration after Wednesday’s double-overtime win, the NBA announced.

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