Quentin Grimes of the Knicks dribbles the ball against the Hawks...

Quentin Grimes of the Knicks dribbles the ball against the Hawks during their Christmas Day game at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 25, 2021. Credit: Errol Anderson

As he entered the NBA this season and waited for his opportunity, Quentin Grimes heard the mantra over and over from Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau: Practice is just as important as the games.

But it wasn’t the first time he’d heard this lesson, that practice, that pickup games, really any time he stepped onto a court, everything matters. He’d grown up with it, his father, Marshall Grimes, teaching him the lessons he learned as a college player.

"It really comes from my dad," Grimes said following Monday’s 14-point effort in the Knicks’ much-needed win over Sacramento. "My dad, he grew up playing basketball. Played at Santa Clara and was around Kurt Rambis and a lot of NBA guys growing up in the Houston area. He always told me that no matter if you’re not playing, playing a lot, playing 40 minutes, you got to treat every practice like it’s a game because you’re ultimately preparing yourself for the game.

"If I’m BS'ing in practice, that's not going to help me in the game, especially as a rookie. So, I feel like my dad prepared me at a young age to kind of take everything I do serious, because I love playing and I want to play as long as I can. So I’m going to take it serious every time I step out there on the court."

The lessons still come in phone calls following every game, his father dissecting his performance long distance. But they started when he was a young child.

"Yeah, I think it was some time playing pickup and I’m out there BS’ing," he said. "He’s like, ‘Nah, you really want to do this, you got to lock in. You can’t be just BS’ing around with guys . . . You got to take it serious. And then once it kind of clicked, I was locked in. It clicked probably my sophomore year in college. I was like, oh, this is what I got to do if I want to be one of the best players hopefully to ever play. So, I just take that mindset every day."

It is that sort of mindset that caught Thibodeau’s eye as much as his shooting form during his play at the University of Houston. And it was what the coach saw in the first 26 games of the season when Grimes appeared in just half the games, averaging six minutes mostly during garbage time. He then got a start with COVID-19 ravaging the roster on Dec. 12 and opened eyes with 27 points in 40 minutes — and promptly was sidelined with a positive COVID-19 test that put him out of action for the next five games.

"This league is about what you earn and everything matters," Thibodeau said. "How you practice, how you conduct yourself . . . You have to go all out. He treats practice like a game. He’s there early. He practices extremely hard. He guards everyone. He’s not going to take any possessions off. He’s not too cool. He’s earned his way. And if he plays well and the team plays well he’ll continue to play.

"That’s what I loved about him in college. Look, there’s so much more to this than so-called talent. There’s a guy's will to win, his dedication. There’s a lot of things — toughness, competitiveness, it’s all those things. So I knew he had that part of him, that was in him."

Grimes has experienced the usual ups and downs of a rookie, but the consistency has come in the work. Defensively, he has matched up with point guards — a need for a team in search of someone to do that job — and also guarded shooting guards, small forwards and even power forwards, an impressive task for a 21-year-old.

"He’s good. He’s really good," Julius Randle said. "I know he came in as a shooter, 3-and-D. But he competes. What I like is he competes on the defensive end but he has a lot more to his game other than just shooting the ball. He can get in the lane, he can finish. He plays at a really good pace and every time he shoots the ball it looks like it’s going in. I think he’s going to have a bright future in the league."

Notes & quotes: Obi Toppin will be back for his second straight entry in the Slam Dunk contest. The Knicks did not have any players selected to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge.