INDIANAPOLIS — Looking back now, Quentin Grimes believes Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau made the right decision. Of course he wanted to play. Of course he wanted to start.
But by forcing the young guard to earn it, by giving him time to get his legs underneath him after he had missed so much time due to a nagging left foot injury — almost the entire training camp and the first month of the regular season — helped Grimes make such a fast impact after eventually breaking into the starting lineup.
“Right now,” Grimes said, “I feel like it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise.”
Watching and waiting motivated Grimes. It forced him to put in extra time before and after practice or on off days. There was the expectation he would be the opening night starter if everything fell right, before he suffered the foot injury on the first practice of camp. Then, after eventually getting over it, there was a brief time when Grimes wasn’t even getting into games.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be handed to me,” he said. “I had to go out there and work for it.”
Grimes promised himself he wouldn’t let his chance, once it arrived, go to waste. And when that opportunity came, he was ready.
These days, it’s hard not to make a correlation between the Knicks’ surge over the last month and Grimes’ emergence. Thibodeau’s team has won six consecutive games and eight of its last 13 since Grimes became a starter. During the current winning streak, he has taken his game to another level, averaging 13.2 points and shooting a robust 45.7 percent from 3-point range.
Grimes has scored in double figures six times since becoming a full-time starter, although it’s really his defense that has made the biggest difference. Guarding the opponents’ best perimeter player, he has produced a 106.1 defensive ranking, the best of all the Knicks’ starters over the last 13 games.
There is a quiet confidence about Grimes. He insisted he’s not surprised by what he has accomplished. His play last year in limited minutes was proof to him he belonged. It’s only growing. He can go almost three quarters without taking a shot and still have the self-belief to hit three big 3-pointers in crunch time, as he did Wednesday in an overtime win over the Bulls.
“Making shots is just part of what I do,” Grimes said. “I feel like I’ve been trusting my work and my confidence will never waver — even if I’m 0-for-30, I’m still taking the next 10 shots no matter what.”
A lot has changed for the Knicks since their ugly home loss to the Thunder on Nov. 13, when they were shredded for 145 points, the most they have allowed in the Thibodeau era. They have won 10 of 16 games since then. The defense has improved significantly. Julius Randle has found his pandemic form. Thibodeau has trimmed his rotation down to nine. But Grimes becoming a mainstay may be the biggest change. He has given the Knicks’ a lock-down perimeter defender and lights-out shooter who can stretch opposing defenses.
He appears to be gaining confidence with each passing game, particularly on offense. Grimes is starting to be more aggressive. He understands where his shots will come from. Meanwhile, his teammates are looking for him more now as well.
“Right now I’m just playing real free with an open mind, going out there reading what the defense gives me,” Grimes said. “They back up, I’m going to pull up and shoot. They close out real hard, I can get off the dribble, get in the paint and make plays for my teammates or myself.
“I’m really just going out there playing with a free mind, having a lot of fun right now.”
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