Knicks Stifle Pistons 90-84, Toppin Shines in Debut

In their first night, Tom Thibodeau and the new look New York Knicks crossed the Rubicon and stormed Little Caesars Arena. The team would lock down the Pistons in their first action in exactly nine months to win 90-84 following an electric performance by lottery pick Obi Toppin.

Preseason Knicks basketball isn’t usually appointment television, but it being Friday Night Knicks lets fire up the television and get hurt again! Coach Tom Thibodeau filled out his ceremonial first lineup card, and sent these five to the circle for the jump ball to get the 2020-2021 preseason underway.

Alright! So none of the rookies in the starting lineup and Mitchell Robinson is coming off the bench behind Nerlens Noel. Thibs is coaching to win, even a meaningless preseason game in Detroit in the middle of a pandemic. I can dig that.

From the jump, RJ Barrett was AGGRESSIVE. He couldn’t hit the ocean if he had been lost at sea like Tom Hanks in Castaway, but he spent the early minutes taking the ball to the basket. He started the game 0-6. I like that he kept shooting, it’s what star players do. (It also keeps the ball out of Julius Randle’s hands and we can all agree that is a plus.)

We also witnessed an actual defensive effort! The Knicks played great team basketball. Barrett, Elfrid Payton, and Nerlens Noel locking down the paint had the Pistons struggling to find their range on offense. Throughout this game, Noel showed he can still be a force under the basket and on the boards. What impressed me the most with the former sixth pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, had to be his effort offensively. Noel had ten big points and stayed aggressive cutting to the basket. A young team with fresh legs should be cutting to the basket like they’re young team with fresh legs.

In the first half, we were all treated to our first look at lottery pick and the newest New York Knick, Obi Toppin. Toppin played four years at Dayton culminating in National Player of the Year honors last year. You can see the polish in Toppin’s offensive game. He had a spectacular spin move along the baseline for a couple of points early. He showed off his featured athleticism with a big time dunk as well. He struggled with pace of play and understanding the athleticism of NBA players. Granted, he played defense against Blake Griffin, a top 25 NBA player when fully healthy. He picked up a few bad fouls on drives. In an expedited preseason, we should expect this to continue throughout the early stages of the regular season as he gets more acclimated to NBA speed and NBA athleticism.

For the first time in seemingly a decade, the Knicks came out of the half-time locker room with ADJUSTMENTS. They played better and continued to lockdown the Pistons offense as their lead grew into the double digits in the third and maintained that lead throughout most of the fourth. RJ Barrett came into the second half more relaxed and it showed. As he would go on a 6-8 shooting stretch and hit his offensive ceiling. He would end the game 7-16.

This baby Knicks team, with no players in their thirties, looked every bit young and inexperienced as their lead shrunk to just six points with a shade over 90 seconds remaining in regulation. Right before the, “Oh no. Here we go again,” set in, Julius Randle, yes, the big name free agent, stepped up and hit a couple big buckets, including a triple as the seconds ticked down to give New York and Coach Thibs their first wins of the preseason.

Austin Rivers did not play and the broadcast mentioned a lingering groin injury, but the point guard’s official listing was “DNP -Coach’s Decision.” Coach Tom Thibodeau split the minutes pretty evenly throughout eleven players. Randle and Barrett each played the most minutes at 29, and Reggie Bullock, played the least at 13.

The Knicks next game is against the Pistons in the Little Caesar’s Arena again as the league seeks to minimize travel throughout the preseason and regular season. The game is at 7:00pm Eastern Time, and will be played Sunday night.