If Tom Thibodeau’s latest tweaks to the Knicks’ rotation were aimed to prioritize his longtime coaching staple of stingy defense, the results have followed suit.
The Knicks held an opponent under 90 points for a second consecutive game, and not coincidentally came away with another home victory against a team in the top-six in the Eastern Conference standings with a thorough 113-89 win Wednesday night over Trae Young and the Hawks at the Garden.
Julius Randle nailed six 3-pointers and led the Knicks with 34 points and 17 rebounds. And recent starter Quentin Grimes continued his strong two-way play with five 3s and a season-high 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting in 31 minutes after he logged 40 minutes in Sunday’s 92-81 win over Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers.
RJ Barrett added 15 points for the Knicks, who held Young and the Hawks to a dismal 6-for-36 shooting night (16.7 percent) from 3-point range to improve to 12-13 ahead of Friday’s visit to Charlotte. Obi Toppin didn’t return to the game after halftime with what the Knicks said is a sore right knee.
Young missed all four of his 3-point attempts but netted 19 points to lead the Hawks (13-12), although imported guard Dejounte Murray notably left the game in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle and didn’t return. He finished with two points in four minutes after lighting up the Knicks in his first Garden appearance earlier this season.
Miles McBride was plus-19 over 27 minutes off the bench in Thibodeau’s revised nine-man rotation, contributing three points and six assists. Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish didn’t play for the second consecutive game, while Evan Fournier sat out his 12th in a row since his last appearance on Nov. 13.
Of course, Young has embraced the villain role from the Garden fans since the Hawks’ five-game elimination of the Knicks during the 2021 playoffs. He playfully wore Knicks-colored sneakers with “King of Broadway” written on them during pregame warm-ups.
Young typically was booed heavily when introduced before the game, although it was his new starting backcourt mate who had torched the Knicks for 36 points, nine assists and five steals in the Hawks’ previous visit to MSG on Nov. 2. Murray would have been a strong trade fit for the Knicks over the summer, but Atlanta acquired him from San Antonio for three first-round picks — including the one received in the Reddish trade in January.
Barrett committed a flagrant foul on Murray three minutes into the game, and the 2022 All-Star departed soon after nailing the technical free throws.
Five early 3-pointers by Randle (3-for-3), Barrett and Grimes — while the Hawks missed their first five attempts from long range — helped the Knicks grab a quick double-digit lead en route to a 31-20 advantage through one quarter.
McBride and Immanuel Quickley were Thibodeau’s first two substitutes off the bench late in the first. Before the game, the 22-year-old McBride said he’s taking the chance to be a regular contributor “head-on.”
“I’m not scared of any opportunity,” he added. “I’m gonna attack each challenge like I always have.”
Grimes and McBride have provided a boost to the Knicks’ perimeter defense the last two games. The Knicks also held Cleveland to a 34.9 overall shooting percentage and 22.9 percent (8-for-35) from 3-point range on Sunday.
The Knicks netted the first seven points of the second quarter to push their lead to 18 before a 17-0 burst by the Hawks — much of it with Young on the bench — pulled Atlanta back within one.
But Grimes drained a 3 and added a couple of finishes at the rim for a dozen points in the half, helping the Knicks rebuild some of their cushion to lead 53-41 at intermission.
The crowd delighted in Young drawing a technical foul for complaining to the officials in the third, and Randle sank two more late 3-pointers as the Knicks pushed the score to 89-67 entering the final period.
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