Coming off a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Clippers and missing two of their starters, nobody would have criticized the Knicks for coming up short against a 76ers team that has the fourth-best record in the NBA. Instead, New York clawed back from 21 points down to pull off perhaps their best win of the season, 108-97.
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The Knicks took the court on Sunday less than 24 hours after their end-of-game execution failed them in a 134-128 overtime loss to the Clippers. With Mitchell Robinson still out with a hand injury and RJ Barrett a late scratch due to illness, it seemed like a tall task to assume the team could keep up with a fully rested 76ers squad. When Joel Embiid started hot and the Knicks were down 33-12 at one point in the first quarter, this seemed to have all the makings of a blowout.
But the Knicks fought back. As they have all season. The only difference is that on Sunday night, they finished the job.
Philadelphia came into the game with the best record and second-best net rating in the league since December 9th. They then scored 35 points in the first quarter, but they would score just 62 over the rest of the game for their lowest scoring output in two months.
Much of that had to do with the play of the Knicks bench.
Every starter for New York finished with a plus/minus in the negatives, while every bench player finished with a positive plus/minus.
Isaiah Hartenstein continued his strong run of play with six points and 14 rebounds in 26 minutes, but it was Miles McBride and Evan Fournier who really catapulted their team to victory.
Fournier, who has been essentially out of the rotation since November, likely didn’t even expect to be playing until word came down that RJ Barrett was going to miss the game with an illness. In his stead, Fournier piled in 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc in 24 minutes. Given all the disappointment Fournier has been through this year, it was a monumental performance and one that earned the respect of former Knicks’ bench players like Jamal Crawford.
@EvanFourmizz ultimate pro. Respect!
— 🏁 Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) February 6, 2023
However, despite Fournier garnering much of the praise, the performance by Miles McBride may have been even more impactful.
The second-year guard had 14 points, three rebounds, and two assists while shooting 3-of-6 from beyond the arc and leading the team with a ridiculous +34 plus/minus. His defense has always been his calling card, but as the shots have started to fall to start February, we’re seeing a new level of impact from Deuce McBride, and he looks like another second-round pick that the Knicks have hit on.
Since the Knicks inserted Deuce into the rotation on Dec 4:
-6th in ORtg
-8th in DRtg
-4th in NetRtg
-11th in DRB%
JB, Mitch, RJ and Obi have missed multiple games in that time. Have wins @ BOS, CLE 2x, MIA, PHI.
Team's good, just be careful how you upgrade.
— ShwinnyPooh (@shwinnypooh) February 6, 2023
In many ways, the game was won on Sunday by players who are rarely given opportunities to have this kind of impact. McBride, Obi Toppin, and Fournier hit three consecutive three-pointers to give the Knicks the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Fournier hit three from deep in the final quarter, and all of McBride, Fournier, and Hartenstein were crucial on this pivotal three with the Knicks up just five late in the fourth.
At least two of them would have never seen this much playing time if Barrett had been healthy.
Now, that’s not to say we’d see this every day from them. Even Fournier admitted after the game that this was “a one-night stand,” but Thibodeau’s insistence on playing his starters 36+ minutes per game while he has bench players that can make this kind of impact is a detriment to this team.
The Knicks don’t have a James Harden. They don’t have a Jayson Tatum. But they’ve shown in recent weeks that they can beat the teams that do when they play together, share the ball, and lock in on defense. Restricting their rotation to essentially six players saps them of their ability to do this.
Who knows how the trade deadline will shake out and what it will mean for this Knicks bench, but there is talent there that just needs to be used more regularly.