NOT SO EASY. 5 Reasons Why NY 114 Detroit 104 on 3-4-21

The previous game, on Sunday, was such an easy win for the Knicks over the Pistons — you figured this would be the same thing. The last game before the All-Star break, the Knicks at 18-18 going in, looking to finish the half over .500 rather than below it; against the 10-25 Pistons, who were without top scorer Jerami Grant and #2 scorer Josh Jackson. On a Thursday night before 2,000 fans at Madison Square Garden. An easy win.

But it wasn’t. Easy. Still, it was a win producing a smile from coach Tom Thibodeau at the All Star break. Here’s how it went down:

1. Detroit Dangerous

With Grant and Jackson out, Detroit starts Wayne Ellington at shooting guard and he plays over 30 minutes a night. Old man river (age 33) who looked mostly terrible in spare minutes off the bench last year for the Knicks.

Knowing all of the above — it would seem the Knicks couldn’t lose; in fact couldn’t not win easily like they did on Sunday. But there was one caveat — Detroit and Wayne Ellington had just blown out Toronto the night before — 129-105 in Toronto. The elite Toronto Raptors coming off 53 wins last year and have won over 50 for 5 straight years, and despite a horrid start to their season this year had recently evened their record at 17-17.

A key to the Detroit win over Toronto was Wayne Ellington — who went 8-11, all from 3 — for 25 points. Former Knick Dennis Smith Jr scored 10 points against the Raptors — he’s had a rejuvenation in Detroit; and the Pistons got tremendous help from their bench. Rodney McGruder and point guard Saben Lee both had 20 points vs Toronto. The Pistons’ bench in fact lead the NBA in scoring, averaging over 43 points a game.

Detroit is in the middle of a rebuild. They dumped the contract of Andre Drummond last year, and are looking to peddle Blake Griffin and his massive contract. They talk about their future being built on “The Core 4”:

  1. Isaiah Stewart (6’8 center and #16 pick in 2020 by Portland),
  2. Killian Hayes (6’5 shooting guard and #7 overall pick by Detroit in 2020),
  3. Saddiq Bey (6’7 small forward and #19 overall pick in 2020 by Brooklyn), and
  4. Saben Lee (6’2 point guard, a 2nd round pick).

And don’t forget Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the 6’7 Euro shooting guard out of Kansas, who was 5-9 from 3 against Toronto for 17 pts. And Mason Plumlee — Detroit’s 6’11, 30-yr-old center having a banner year.

Plus Detroit’s coach is Dwane Casey — a good NBA coach who led Toronto to three of those 50+ win seasons; a coach known for teams that play defense.

2. Detroit Made a Run in 4th

All of that said — the Knicks cruised in this one — gradually building a double-digit lead that they maintained throughout the 3rd quarter and built to a 19-point lead entering the 4th quarter. Remember Detroit was 10-25 coming in.

And then.. Detroit made a run in the 4th. Mykhailiuk hit a 3. Sekou Doumbouya (6’8 forward, the #15 overall pick by Detroit in 2019) made a drive; Saddiq Bey hit a 3 and Mason Plumlee made some inside moves and went to the line a few times, Bey hit more shots, and before you knew it Detroit was within 10 points with 5 minutes left.

3. Randle, Barrett, Payton Hold Court. And Noel. And Bullock.

The Knicks had to buckle down on defense and hold their home court. With NY up 10 but Detroit about to pull to within 8, Julius Randle BLOCKED a Bey layup, Elfrid Payton grabbed the loose ball and quarterbacked a long pass to RJ Barrett for the full court drive and bucket in the other direction.

Detroit would not go away — and pulled within 9 points with 3 minutes left on a Bey drive and 1 for a 3-pt play. 

But RJ Barrett stepped up with a big bucket; Julius Randle stepped up with a big hoop with 2 minutes left, Elfrid Payton blocked a Lee drive inside, and Reggie Bullock picked up a steal and the Pistons ran out of gas.

With 1:22 left the refs stopped the game and awarded the Knicks another point — the big bucket by Barrett a minute earlier was determined to be a 3.

Nerlens Noel played another Herculean game — 42 minutes at center (with Taj Gibson joining Mitchell Robinson on the injured sideline) – 11 points on 5-5 shooting, 2-2 free throws, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 steals.

Elfrid Payton was back from injury (missed 3 games with a bruised hamstring) and was terrific from the start — he led the Knicks charge throughout and finished with 20 points (on 7-14 shooting, 1-2 from 3, 5-6 in free throws), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals.

Julius Randle had another super-star performance; tremendous efficiency; “spraying the ball around” (as Thibodeau says it) to his teammates; excellent defense: 27 pts (on 11-19 shooting), 16 rebounds, 7 assists, a +16.

4. Barrett’s Shooting Percentages On the Rise

More great news for the Knicks is the continued excellent shooting from RJ Barrett — increasing his shooting percentages from 3 and the line – to go along with his terrific 2-way game (offense and defense). Barrett scored 21 pts on 9-13 shooting (1-2 from 3; 2-2 in free throws); 4 rebounds, 5 assists.

Barrett is now shooting .350 from 3 and .731 in free throws.

5. Ntilikina Snipper

Another fun thing to watch in this game was Frank Ntilikina coming off the bench and popping 3’s without hesitation — he hit three straight 3’s in the second quarter — one a 4-pt play. Ntilikina finished with 9 points on 3-4 shooting (3-3 from 3) in 13 minutes. He had no assists (again). Ntilikina Hive on Twitter were calling for him to replace Reggie Bullock in the starting 5. It seems even they have realized Ntilikina isn’t a point guard.

Other Knicks

It wasn’t a good night for Immanuel Quickley, who was 0-4 for 0 points in 13 minutes and a -7. Leading to the observation that Ntilikina could be in process of edging ahead of him in the rotation — Quickley provides instant offense but if Ntilikina can hit the 3 with precision, he also offers a height and Defensive advantage over the 6’2 but looks 6′ Quickley.

Obi Toppin was first man off the bench and played well; 4 pts on 2-2 in 12 minutes. He was in during the beginning of the 4th when Detroit quickly got back into it and was quickly pulled for Randle.

Alec Burks played well and provided his normal contribution: 9 pts on 4-9 in 20 minutes; good D and head’s up ball.


The Knicks head to the All Star break at 19-18 and with players like LeBron James saying during the evening that it was “about time” New York was good again. Somebody tweeted this was the first time the Knicks were over .500 at the All Star break since 2012.

But people were forgetting:

  • Knicks were 20-20 in 2015-16 under Derek Fisher.
  • Knicks were 16-13 in 2016-17 with Jeff Hornacek before horrid January (losing so many close games)
  • Knicks were 17-14 in 2017-18 under Hornacek before same thing happened.
  • It was the only the 2 David Fizdale yrs that were horrific from the start.

On the night, Knick fans on Twitter were warning that the second half schedule was a tough one. NBA NY laid it out: “The Knicks got the Ws expected during a relatively easy 3-week stretch going into all-star break. The rest of March? Different story: Bucks, Sixers, Nets, Orlando, Miami, Wizards, Even the best Defense in OKC.”

Just Sayin’ had a good response: “Yeah I agree. The Bucks, Sixers, Nets, Orlando, Miami, Wizards, Even the best Defense in OKC — Are going to have a tough time getting a win against the #NYKnicks.”

The Boxscore

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