DEFENSE. And 4 Other Reasons Why NY 110 Portland 99 on 2-6-21

DEFENSE. If you’re checking the boxscores and are surprised that you keep seeing the Knicks winning games — remember Coach Tom Thibodeau coaches the Knicks now. And coaching is 65% of the NBA.

And so the Knicks won another, improving their record to 11-13, with this TOUGH, hard-fought battle on a Saturday afternoon at 1pm in a Coronavirus empty Madison Square Garden.

Here’s how and why it happened:


The Knicks played a tough, physical game on Portland — denying passes on the perimeter, hounding Portland players all over the court, playing a physical defense inside. By the 4th quarter it started to have its effect on Portland, as the Knicks pushed out to a 10-pt lead and then a 15-pt lead with 4:28 left. Portland tried to make a run by shooting 3’s — but could only pull to within 7 points as the Knicks put them away.

The Knicks forced 6 Portland turnovers in the 4th quarter. Afterwards, Coach Tom Thibodeau had this to say about the defense against Lillard and company: “You have to be active with your hands; but it’s your feet really — your hands aid you but you can’t lock your feet at any point. If you’re blitzing it’s got to be a running trap; if it’s a handoff you have something different on that. And it’s tied with 5 guys together; you have to get in early, but because of the way they shoot the 3, you also have to fire out and cover that line. So it requires multiple effort. I thought in the second half we were better at that but our ball pressure was a lot better in 2nd half.”

2. Payton

Elfrid Payton came out of the gate aggressive for the 2nd game in a row and was a big difference maker — essentially leading the Knicks to victory. His dribble penetrations into the lane and scores or passes opened up the Portland defense. On defense he did a good job chasing Damien Lillard through screens and making his life difficult. Lillard got his usual 29 points on 10-19 shooting, but seemed to have to work hard for it; no telling how many points he would have put up if Payton wasn’t putting pressure on him. Lillard had missed the previous game with an abdominal strain, but played in this one and clearly wasn’t at 100 percent.

After the game, Rebecca Harlow asked coach Thibodeau about Payton, saying that before the game, Thibodeau said Payton “has set the tone, particularly defensively.” She asked Thibodeau to comment on the way Payton “is breaking down the paint offensively,” pointing out that in this game the difference in the paint was NY 50-28. Thibodeau had high praise for Payton’s dribble penetration: “I think it’s one of his strengths, I think his size is problematic, and it puts pressure on the defense, and if you can force the defense to collapse, it’ll create easy scoring opportunities for us, whether it’s his scoring or the shots you get off of it, and oftentimes it also leads to second shots. So when he’s pushing the ball and getting into the paint it’s creates havoc. And then he has the responsibility of making the proper rim read once he gets there, and he’s done that. And then you have to chase Lillard around through a million screens and he did it on that end, and you can’t overlook what Mitch was doing as well he gave us great effort and that’s not an easy task. We had a lot of guys step up; it was a great team win for us.”

Payton had this to say after the game, “It’s fun, it’s tough, you know he’s hard on me, always pushing me, but I accept the challenge; it’s been good.” Payton later answered the hardness comes “in practice, film, timeouts.”

Payton finished with 22 pts on 10-19 shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and a +4.

Immanuel Quickley had 12 pts 4-8 (2-5 from 3) for a +5. At the start of the 4th quarter, Anfernee Simons scored 9 straight points on Quickley, before a Quickley steal and then a 3 made up for some of it. But Thibodeau then put Payton back in for Quickley at the 8:50 mark, NY up 95-85. Asked whether Payton was put back in for Defense after the game, Thibodeau said “Yea, pretty much. I liked the way Elfrid was going.” Payton penetrated and fed Robinson for a dunk with 7:23 left to put the Knicks up 97-87, sored with 7:05 left to make it 99-87, and dunked off a Robinson steal with 6:05 left to make it 101-87.

3. Bullock

This was a game where you could finally see what Thibodeau sees in Reggie Bullock. His Defense was noticeable and exceptional — he was hounding Trent or whoever he was guarding off switches — using his arms and feet. Bullock was also 4-6 from the floor (2-4 from 3) for 10 pts and a team-high +14.

4. Six Knicks in Double Figures

The Knicks had a balanced attack offensively.

Julius Randle had another all-star performance: 22 pts on 7-15 shooting, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and a +11.

RJ Barrett had another super efficient shooting game: 18 pts on 8-14 (2-2 from 3), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and a +4.

Alec Burks helped with his shooting: 16 pts on 6-16 (4-9 from 3) shooting.

5. Interior Defense

Mitchell Robinson led the effort with terrific defense all night. At times Enes Kanter got behind him for an inside bucket, but overall he kept Kanter in front of him where he was able to effect his hook shot, and then at times you’d see Mitch hounding Kanter on the perimeter — picking up a key steal in the 4th. Robinson had 6 pts, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a +6.

Portland has shooters — besides Lillard and Simons, Gary Trent Jr. gave the Knicks issues all night (8-20 shooting for 19 pts), and Robert Covington had 13 pts on 4-10 shooting (3-9 from 3).

Carmelo Anthony had just come off a few 20+ performances, but was limited to 1-8 shooting for 2 poitns in 17 minutes and a -5.

The Boxscore


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