Donte DiVicenzo put on a shooting performance like we have not seen around these parts in a long time.
The Villanova alum made a career high nine three pointers and scored 33 points as the Knicks won their 8th consecutive game with a 118-103 win over the Utah Jazz at Madison Square Garden last night. DiVicenzo’s three point blitz tied him for second on the franchise’s all time list for threes made in a single game (J.R. Smith and Evan Fournier, remember him, hold the record with 10 in a single game).
The Knicks improved to 31-17, 17-5 at MSG (9-1 in January to set a new franchise record for home wins in a month, 14-2 overall in the month) and they find themselves in third place in the Eastern Conference, just a game and a half behind second place Milwaukee.
Even with the injuries, things are falling into place for the Knicks, who were able to overcome a tough early schedule that featured an abundance of road games.
“We had a very heavy road schedule early and a lot of back to backs so you gotta navigate through that and we did,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Unusual in the amount of back to backs we had early in the season, but you keep your focus on your daily improvement and you don’t get sidetracked, you improve and that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting great effort from people.”
DiVicenzo was signed as a free agent to give the Knicks a legitimate three point threat and he was all of that and more as the Knicks have now won two straight without two of their most important players, Julius Randle and O.G. Anunoby.
“Mental toughness is a big part of that in how you handle adversity. To come out in a positive way, I think that makes you stronger,” said Thibodeau.
Jalen Brunson scored 29 points with 9 assists, but for some reason, was still on the floor late in the game with the Knicks up big. With Randle out, there has to be some concern that Brunson, who is ultra competitive, will try to do too much so it will be important to monitor his minutes and take advantage, when the situation presents itself, to take him off the floor.
The rotation players really stood out as a whole. Josh Hart started for the second straight game and had his first career triple-double (10 points-10 rebounds-10 assists). Isaiah Hartenstein had 14 pts and 12 rebounds while Precious Achiuwa tied his Knicks high with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Quentin Grimes led the bench scoring with 12 points while Jericho Sims was +14 in 19 minutes.
“It’s a collective effort,” Brunson said. “We have a couple of guys out so it’s not just gonna be one guy, its gonna be everyone just stepping up. We have the right personnel and the right mindset to do that so everyone is pitching in and most important, we’re winning.”
Coming into the game, the Jazz had scored over 110 points in 12 straight games (the first 11 of that streak they scored 120 or more) and were averaging over 117 PPG this season, but the Knicks defense held them to 45% shooting and forced 15 turnovers that led to 22 points.
The Jazz had a superior size advantage over the Knicks (at one point, Utah had two seven footers and a near seven footer on the floor at the same time), who compensated with tenacious defense, good ball movement and playing with the confidence that has propelled them to eight wins in a row.
The Jazz jumped to a 15-6 lead with just under eight minutes left but a 7-0 run narrowed the gap and DiVicenzo’s third three late in the first quarter gave the Knicks a 29-22 lead after one. “When he’s shooting the ball like that, it’s great,” Brunson said.
In the second quarter, in order to counter Utah’s size, Thibodeau played Hartenstein at the five, together with Achiuwa at the four. “We saw him [Achiuwa] play mostly center in Toronto. He’s showing up he can handle two positions,” Thibodeau said.
With under eight minutes left in the second quarter, the Knicks got another injury scare when Grimes appeared to injure his ankle but he was able to return and didn’t appear to be compromised.
Late in the quarter, Achiuwa scored five straight points and the Knicks were up 57-49 at the half.
Collin Sexton, who led the Jazz with 22 points, hit a three to cut the lead to 61-60 early in the third but an 11-0 run gave the Knicks control of the game.
A Jazz turnover led to DiVicenzo bolting downcourt on a two on one with Brunson and the Knicks superstar (yes he is, cut the nonsense from those around the country who claim to know basketball) finished the play with a driving lay up and a foul to make it a 69-60 lead with 7:30 left in the third.
Another DiVicenzo pass led to a Brunson three to make it 72-60 and, from there, the Jazz could never get closer than ten and trailed by as much as 25 in the fourth quarter.
Late in the game, the crowd chanted for Taj Gibson (who was resigned to a ten day contract before the game) and Thibodeau obliged by inserting the veteran with 30 seconds left.
Anunoby told MSG Network that his elbow was feeling better and could possibly return on Thursday when the Knicks host Indiana.
As far as the lack of information concerning Randle’s injury, shame on the Knicks for not keeping their fans informed. The only reporting has come from anonymous sources, but the Knicks have to be more transparent when situations like this arise.
The Knicks continue to subscribe to this media paranoia. They’ve got a team that has captured the imagination of the city, along with a die hard fan base that was on pins and needles this past weekend because their second best player went down with what could potentially be a season ruining injury.
There are some published reports stating Randall’s injury is not a season ender and that he would likely not need surgery. The Knicks are saying they hope to have an update on Randle’s status in a day or two, claiming more tests need to be done.
It’s going on four days since Randle was injured. In this day and age, it shouldn’t take that long to read an MRI and even get a third opinion.