There are no question marks that Tom Thibodeau is less likely to answer than to stare down a rugged stretch of the upcoming schedule for the Knicks. Instead, he will say that the only game that matters is what is in front of the team.
So Thibodeau would not look back on the three-game losing streak that the Knicks brought into Madison Square Garden on Monday night or on the next game against a string of Memphis Grizzlies before heading out on an impressive five-game west coast trip – which just happens to overlap the NBA’s trade deadline.
Instead, he focused on the task by taking on the shorthanded Sacramento Kings. The Knicks were ready for the task and built up a lead of 29 points with 2:50 left on the way to a 116-96 victory.
It was the seventh loss in a row for the Kings (18-34). The Knicks (24-27) had lost six of their last seven.
“Just concentrate on the game in front of you,” Thibodeau said before the match. “You do not want to look ahead. Understand what you need to have done today. Try to create some consistency and focus on the first quarter.”
When Sacramento played without star guard De’Aaron Fox – the subject of many trade rumors – the Kings were never in the game and the audience ended up shouting for Cam Reddish to get on the field. Reddish reported in with 5:07 left and the Knicks with 22 and scored four points.
If Knicks fans missed a chance to see Fox, one of their own pieces, which has also been the subject of commercial talk, showed a great showing early in the game. Evan Fournier was on fire from the opening tip, hitting his first six shots from the floor, including four from beyond the arc, scoring 16 points in the first quarter. He finally failed on a three-pointer in the final minute of the first quarter.
Fournier was not needed too much after that and finished with just two points more – and took only four shots more – as the rest of the Knicks joined and switched while steadily pulling away from Sacramento.
Alec Burks scored 21 points from the bench and Julius Randle had 17 points and nine rebounds. Quentin Grimes and Obi Toppin each added 14 points from the bench. Tyrese Haliburton led Sacramento with 21 points and eight assists.
The Kings kept the deficit close to 10 for most of the third quarter, but the Knicks went on a run with a great game where the Burks shot forward to Grimes near midfield and Grimes sent it quickly to RJ Barrett who stroked to the edge for a dunk and a lead of 20 points. There was the obligatory Toppin highlight wheel game where he forged a pass and euro-stepped into the lane for a layup and a foul.
It was a change from the recent mood in Garden when Randle absorbed the anger of the fans. If the answer that awaited him in the garden from the stands was in doubt when he took the floor Monday night, he had at least one fan in place.
Alvin Gentry, who took over as coach of the Kings earlier in the season when Luke Walton was sacked, coached Randle in his final stop at the Pelicans before the striker traveled to the Knicks as a free agent. And while rumors have begun to seep through the league that Randle is not immovable, Gentry, with a team full of trade rumors himself, was overflowing in his praise of his former player.
“He has not shot the ball so well,” he said. “But the way he attacks the basket and his ability to handle the ball on the open court and create play are all things he started doing when he was in New Orleans, and I think he’s very, much better for it right now. A good guy to train because he loves the competition and does not mind the contact. “