Knicks continue to turn up defense, blow out Hornets

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CHARLOTTE, NC – First up was Miles McBride, greeted as he walked to the Knicks bench with a high five from Tom Thibodeau. The other four Knicks also got one.

It was clear that Thibodeau was pleased with what he saw, as the Knicks were dismantling the Hornets, 121-102, at Spectrum Center.

But this didn’t feel like it was just one win over a terrible, injury-plagued team. It was more about what happened lately, since that ugly loss at home to the Thunder on November 13. the Bucks, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies. They’ve now won three in a row, tied for their highest season, and have done it the Thibodeau way: with defense.

Julius Randle had his second game in a row and scored at least points.
Getty Images

The Knicks, back at .500 at 13-13, have held their last three opponents, the Cavaliers, Hawks and Hornets, to 20-of-97 (20.6 percent) from 3-point range. Only a quick offensive finish by Charlotte in stoppage time kept the Knicks from holding a third straight opponent under 100 points.

Quentin Grimes and McBride have given the Knicks youth and two defensive players. Recent improvements on the defensive end have allowed the Knicks to survive a few shaky performances from Jalen Brunson, who missed 13 of his 16 shots in the win. He did have 11 assists.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, meanwhile, combined for 59 points, 33 coming from Randle in his second consecutive 30-plus scoring game. After missing his first four shots, Barrett hit eight in a row. Grimes and Isaiah Hartenstein added 11 each and McBride had 10.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau watches on against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center during the first quarter.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau watches on against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center during the first quarter.
Getty Images
RJ Barrett had 26 points for the Knicks against the Hornets on Friday.
RJ Barrett had 26 points for the Knicks against the Hornets on Friday.
Getty Images

The Knicks did not finish the first half well, allowing the Hornets to nearly cut their 11-point lead into the final minute. It was 55-49 at the break, in part because of the Knicks’ shooting problems from deep (5-of-20) and their shaky paint defense. Charlotte, particularly Oubre, pounded them in for 32 points.

Without Obi Toppin (right fibula), Thibodeau went big with the second unit, using Jericho Sims and Hartenstein together for five minutes. It didn’t go well. The Knicks were outscored by five as the two big men split the floor.

The Knicks’ best part of the first half came late in the second quarter, in a 12–2 five-point run by Randle. He was the Knicks’ best player in the first half, scoring 19 points along with four rebounds, and Mitchell Robinson was a monster inside, with five offensive rebounds and three blocked shots.

The third quarter followed a similar pattern to the end of the first half. The Knicks started fast and went up 13 after a Grimes 3-pointer capped a 14–4 run. But when it looked like they were ready to pull away, the Hornets answered with eight straight runs to come within five.

That’s when the Knicks put the game away for good. During the last 6:55 of the quarter, they outscored the Hornets 13 times. It started with a Grimes dunk in transition and ended with a McBride jumper. But it was really about defense, holding the Hornets to five points in nearly seven minutes of action.

It’s what led Thibodeau to give his players high-fives. Of course, a few minutes later after a turnover and transition dunk for the Hornets, he waved his arm again in displeasure.

Baby steps, apparently.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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