In the Dougie McBuckets Revenge Game, the Knicks ran up a first half lead before foul trouble and injuries took the team out of rhythm and into the loss column.
After a preseason of questions regarding the starting five, Head Coach Tom Thibodeau settled on Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, Randy Bullock, Mitchell Robinson, and RJ Barrett on opening night. Thibs ignored our calls to start rookie Immanuel Quickley, but compromised and started Mitchell Robinson in the matchup against Domantas Sabonis. It wouldn’t matter much though as Robinson picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game and found himself on the bench.
Sabonis took advantage of the foul trouble he created against Robinson and later Nerlens Noel, who also picked up three fouls in the first quarter trying to guard the son of Arvydas Sabonis. The Pacers center would score a career high 32 in the game. Clyde Frazier described the Sabonis as “committing genocide” against the Knicks defenders in the quote of the night.
Despite the foul trouble for both centers, New York had a lead going into the halftime break because of the sharp shooting of RJ Barrett and Alec Burks. Barrett made all nine field goal attempts in the first half, combining range from beyond the arc and the ability to get to the basket. Burks provided a much needed long range boost to the club and shot the Pacers out of a zone defense that had frequently befuddled the Knicks in the preseason.
The offense looks remarkably different in minutes being run by Quickley rather than Elfrid Payton. Quickley ended the night as one of two Knicks with a positive plus minus, the other being Alec Burks. The worst news of the night came early in the third when the Knicks announced that IQ would be leaving the game with a hip pointer. A non-contact injury that almost immediately had the Kentucky Wildcats product removed from the game. He is currently listed as day-to-day with a chance to play the front-end of the back-to-back against Philadelphia on Saturday. Once Quickley left the game, the Knicks offense sputtered to just 16 points in the third quarter.
In minutes Elfrid Payton had to sit in the second half, Coach Thibodeau briefly played Frank Ntilikina, whom the Knicks did not discuss an extension with before Sunday’s deadline, but quickly settled on Burks running the point in hopes of providing more spacing for Barrett and Kevin Knox. It appears that the French Prince and Dennis Smith Jr. are both deep in the doghouse and will be used only in severe emergencies early on in the season. A move that will either inspire Smith and Ntilikina to perform better in practice or will have them quickly restarting their careers elsewhere.
The Knickerbockers stayed in the game despite an third quarter explosion by Victor Oladipo, before fading in the fourth as their offensive struggles continued throughout the second half. The 0-1 Knicks will now move to a back-to-back at Madison Square Garden with the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday at 7:30 and then on Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks also at 7:30. The Pacers will play the Bulls on Saturday night at 8:00.