After putting up 34 points in his Madison Square Garden debut, Zion Williamson said something that had to make Knicks fans smile.
"New York is the mecca of basketball," he said. "I loved playing here when I played here in college. This is my first time playing in the pros and this atmosphere, whether they are cheering for you or booing for you, it’s amazing.
"I honestly think outside of New Orleans, this might be my favorite place to play. I can’t lie to you."
Knicks fans were dying to draft Williamson in 2019, but the team did not get that lucky in the lottery. The fact that he likes playing here could bode well for the Knicks down the road.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau certainly enjoyed seeing the big-bodied Williamson go head-to-head with the big-bodied Julius Randle (33 points, 10 assists) in the Knicks’ 122-112 overtime win Sunday.
"It was like two bulls going at it," Thibodeau said. "The physicality and skill level of it. I’m glad we have the guy we have. Julius is our engine. He made big play after big play. Two fierce competitors. It was a great game back and forth and a very physical game."
A collective gasp went up from Knicks fans after Nerlens Noel smacked his hand on the rim in the first quarter and fell to the floor, writhing in pain.
After having the hand checked out in the locker room, he returned to the game, finishing with 12 points, 5-for-6 shooting and two blocks. Most importantly, he hit two big free throws in the final minute of regulation that helped the Knicks tie the score.
With Mitchell Robinson out, Noel has been an important part of the Knicks’ rotation this season. Entering Sunday, he was averaging 5.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 23.3 minutes per game.
Burks still in protocol
Alec Burks missed his second straight game because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The Knicks have not said whether he tested positive for the virus. Thibodeau declined to say whether Burks flew home with the team from Dallas: "I’m not going to comment on where he is."