Knicks guard Quentin Grimes controls the ball against the Bucks...

Knicks guard Quentin Grimes controls the ball against the Bucks during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Brad Penner

Quentin Grimes woke up and headed to Madison Square Garden on Sunday with little indication that this day would be any different from any of the other games he’d prepared for this season. He had totaled 79 minutes of playing time in the first 26 games, most of which he spent rooting for his teammates as he paid his rookie dues.

But he found out shortly before the start of the noon game that with RJ Barrett in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, he would get his first NBA start. And on a day that was one to forget for most of the Knicks in a 112-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, it proved to be memorable for Grimes.

He scored 27 points, setting a record for a Knicks rookie making his first start, and connected on seven three-point field goals, a Knicks rookie record. The performance surprised him as much as it did the fans at the Garden.

"Not going to lie, I really didn’t [expect it]," Grimes said. "I found out about 90 minutes before the game started when we knew RJ couldn’t play that I was going to start. I just needed to keep my mind right and do it how I used to in college to prepare myself. It was definitely a surreal moment and I was just trying to soak it all in."

The day served as a confidence-builder and a learning opportunity. While his offense was spectacular — he shot 7-for-9 from three-point range and scored 25 points in his first 23:21 — and his confidence seemingly grew with every shot, he did have five turnovers and struggled defensively against the dangerous weapons of the defending champs.

"I think that I can really play with these guys," he said. "They are the defending champs, they are not one of the lower seeds in the East, so I learned a lot more about myself going against the defending champs. I feel like I learned a lot about my game and I just need to keep improving day by day whether it is starting or coming off of the bench so that I can do what I can to help the team win."

"It starts with practicing well, which I see every day," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He comes back every night, comes in early every day, works extremely hard, very good in practice. So we were confident when he got his opportunity he would play well, which he did. One game doesn’t make a huge difference, but it’s a very positive step because of how he approaches things. He’s a great competitor, it’s important to him, he’s prepared himself extremely well."

Kemba buried on the bench

Kemba Walker has not seen the floor since Nov. 26, when he was removed from the starting lineup and replaced at point guard by Alec Burks. With the Knicks missing three players, including Burks, it might have seemed natural that Walker would get called upon again. But he did not.

"It’s basically a coaching decision," Thibodeau said. He would not comment on Walker directly but did point out that his rotation was based on how the game unfolded and "the size of their guards. We thought that would give us the best chance to win."