Knicks CRUSH Portland, 128-98

The Knicks have been playing great ball since the All Star break, but have lost a bunch of excruciatingly close games to good teams — blowing leads in the final minutes. On this night at Madison Square Garden the Knicks finally played a poor team — the 26-41 Portland Trail Blazers — and blew them off the court, 128-98.

NY improved to 29-40.

Knick fans are left to fantasize what the scenario would be like right now if NY could take back just 5 of their blown wins this year — some of them jaw-dropping incredulous. NY would be at .500 and heading into the playoffs a team no one would want to play.

“We were up big the last time we played them, and they came back and beat us,” said RJ Barrett of Portland afterwards. “So this was personal.”

1. Barrett Takes Charge

RJ Barrett took charge from the start, attacking the basket and leading the Knicks on offense. Barrett had 21 points at the half. He finished with 31 points on 10-20 shooting (5-11 from 3; 6-7 from the free throw line) and a +22.

It came out during the evening on Twitter that Barrett told his agent that he was making a New Year’s Resolution to average 20 ppg this season. “It’s time to take over…We made a goal to average 20,” Barrett texted his trainer. “I’m gonna get there, Brodie.”

He is almost there — after the game he’s averaging 19.5 ppg.

2. Randle Joins Barrett in 2nd Half

Julius Randle started off slowly — had only 5 points at the half to Barrett’s 21 — but Randle came on in the 2nd half. He missed all his 3’s (0-5 from 3) but ended up with 20 points on 5-18 shooting (10-12 from the free throw line), 9 rebounds, and 7 assists.

3. Quickley Runs the Point

The Knicks front office made a mistake at point guard for this season: they banked on 33-year old (and coach Tom Thibodeau favorite) Derrick Rose — who played like an All Star and was the main reason for the Knicks great 2nd half and playoff appearance last year. But this year Rose showed why you can’t quite trust 33-year-old point guards — Rose had ankle surgery 20 games into the season and has not returned yet.

The Knicks front office led by Leon Rose doubled down on old point guards by gambling on 31-year-old-but-with-bad-knees Kemba Walker, and that did not work out. Kemba’s knees did not allow him to play any kind of defense — never the undersized point guard’s strong suit to begin with — and on offense Kemba was inconsistent. Early in the season he seemed to freeze out other Knicks like Randle and Barrett when he got going; and later on he seemed to mesh with the team better, and had some great scoring games but before you know it he was out for the year too.

The Knick front office was no doubt banking on Immanuel Quickley to learn how to play point as the season progressed — and the shooting-guard-in-a-point-guard’s-body has progressed well in the position as of late. In this game, he led the attack as he’s been doing after the All Star break. He had an excellent shooting night as well: 4-5 from the floor (3-3 from 3; 7-8 in free throws) for 18 pts, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists for a +17.

“He grabs rebounds. He’s all over the place, and I tell him that. He’s always moving,” said Barrett about Quickley. “He has so much energy.”

And Miles McBride got a lot of run at the point — 20 minutes. He has been playing great Defense, which he’s noted for — but been a bit timid on offense. In this game: 1-1 from the floor (4-4 in free throws) for 7 points and 3 assists. As he becomes more assertive on offense — and unlike Frank Ntilikina he’s shown he’s not shy, albiet in the G League — he may yet be the point guard of the future for NY.

4. Toppin a Highlight Film Topping

Obi Toppin came off the bench for 13 points in a wonderous 14 minutes of energy — 6-10 shooting and some alley oop slams.

Toppin’s play was like adding whipped cream and cherry topping to the evening.

5. Two-Headed Center

Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims split the center minutes — they both played 24.

Robinson came into the game shooting .769 from the floor which would annihilate his all-time single-season record of .741 — but needing to average 5.5 field goals made per game the rest of the way to qualify for the league lead (you need 300 field goals made; he entered the game with 223 made and 14 games left). Robinson was 3-3 at the half but didn’t score in the second half. The recent game where he left after 2 minutes with a stomach issue hurt.

Robinson finished with 7 pts, 6 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. He had a +9.

Some believe Jericho Sims is being tried out as NY’s center of the future because Knick management is trying to make a decision on whether they will resign Robinson this summer as he becomes a free agent. Word is that Robinson should be getting a $12M a year, multi year deal, and it’s no sure thing he’ll sign with NY as he has a history of changing agents to seek top dollar, and also seems to constantly talk up living in New Orleans, where he is from and resides.

And Sims looks better and better at center. He played with big-time energy as usual, finishing with 5 points, 7 rebounds, a block and a +21.

Evan Fournier shot well (5-10, including 4-9 from 3 for 14 points) and Alec Burks scored 10 points on 3-9 shooting.

A fun night was had by all in this romp at MSG on a Wednesday night.

Josh Hart led Portland with 17 points, and point guard Brandon Williams had 14. With Damian Lillard out, and CJ McCollum traded, Portland is a shell of its former self.

The Boxscore

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