A few notes from the Knicks’ 130-116 win over the Cleveland Cavs on Friday night:
HAND IT TO HIM
Jalen Brunson seems comfortable playing with his right hand in a wrap. He had a career-high 48 points on 18-for-32 shooting (7-12 on threes) in the Knicks’ win in Cleveland.
It was another remarkable performance in a season full of them for Brunson. He also had nine assists and two offensive rebounds to help lift New York over Donovan Mitchell and the Cavs in a likely playoff preview.
“I knew he was special, but I didn’t see this,” one opposing Eastern Conference scout said earlier this week. “He’s just a winner, period.”
Brunson’s performance Friday night was more evidence to support that point. It also strengthened Brunson’s case for Most Improved Player and for the unofficial title of ‘Best Knicks Free Agent Signing Since Allan Houston.’
New York limited Cleveland to 14 points in the fourth, thanks in part to that Isaiah Hartenstein. He had five rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in the fourth. He was on the floor for the entire quarter, alongside Josh Hart and Immanuel Quickley.
The Hart-Harteinstein-Quickley trio has been great for New York.
The Knicks have outscored their opponent by a combined 132 minutes in 207 minutes with those three on the floor, per NBA.com.
“Me, (Quickley) and Josh are just getting more and more chemistry,” Hartenstein said earlier in the week. “Leading into the playoffs, I think that’s going to be good; we could have different lineups that we can play different ways. I think that lineup, we can move the ball a little more. Just giving Thibs another option that he can use in his toolbox.”
Hartenstein has been one of Thibodeau’s best tools lately. In his last 10 games, Hartenstein is averaging 2.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds (two offensive) and shooting 57 percent from the floor. He’s been putting up similar numbers over the past 10 weeks (1.9 assists, 7.3 rebounds (2.5 offensive), 61 percent shooting).
Those stats are in stark contrast to Hartenstein’s production in the first three months of the season (https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/harteis01/gamelog/2023#166-211-sum:pgl_basic).
What changed? Hartenstein’s health improved and he grew more comfortable in his role. He seemed to grow more comfortable during Mitchell Robinson’s 14-game absence in late January/early February.
“It helped a lot,” Hartenstein said earlier this week.
He also credited Julius Randle for lifting him up during a rough stretch.
“After one game, I played bad. I got a text from Julius. It said, ‘Just keep going, we want you here,'” Hartenstein said. “Just him being a teammate like that just helped give me more confidence. The whole season, he’s been really good at making sure everyone feels comfortable.”
Randle had 316 assists this season. This one didn’t count towards his season total, but it may have been the most important assist of the year.
LIFE WITHOUT RANDLE
The Knicks weathered life without Randle well on Friday. Obi Toppin started at power forward, scoring 12 points in 18 minutes.
He and RJ Barrett had to be separated while arguing during a timeout, but, according to reporters in Cleveland, both players downplayed the interaction after the game.
Miles McBride replaced Toppin off the bench as the Knicks stuck with a nine-man rotation. Quentin Grimes (14 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal) had another strong game. Hart, Hartenstein and Quickley all played more than 29 minutes.
One interesting note about this final stretch in the regular season: before the Randle injury, the playoff rotation wasn’t set in stone in the eyes of the coaching staff. Prior to the Randle injury, the staff was still evaluating players – both in and out of the current rotation – to determine the best group for the postseason. It’s fair to assume that the evaluation will continue over the final four games.
In his last five games, Grimes is averaging 19.6 points on 52 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals. He’s shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. All while defending the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.
“QG’s done a great job; the way he shoots it, guards the best player on the other team every single night,” Quickley said. “Can’t ask for more than that.”