Obi Toppin couldn’t have started his second NBA season on a better note on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden during the New York Knicks’ 138-134 overtime victory over the Boston Celtics.
The 23-year-old forward — after being held to just one point in the first half — helped spark a Knicks turnaround in the second half on a night he finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting with five rebounds in 28 minutes.
Toppin was a menace in the transition game and down low scoring nine points during a 21-6 run between the third and fourth quarters, punctuated by a two-handed alley-oop set up by Derrick Rose with nine minutes to go in the game.
He was met by chants of “Obi, Obi,” from the Madison Square Garden faithful; a wild card on the bingo card of players you thought would be overly lauded by a boisterous Big Apple crowd.
“Man, hearing your name get chanted at the Garden is amazing,” he said. “It is an unbelievable experience that I can’t even explain it is just something you have got to live through.”
In all, eight of his points were from the transition game — further proving his and the Knicks’ mindset to get out and run when they can.
“I just know if we have the rebound, I am taking off,” Toppin said. “I feel like I am pretty fast, so I feel like some guys on other teams get back very slowly and I take advantage of that. Like I said, we have guys who find me in the open floor and those are easy points to get.”
Toppin became the first Knick since Derrick Williams in 2015 to record at least 14 points and five rebounds off the bench in the team’s season opener.
“Obi is really learning how to become an NBA player,” Knicks guard Evan Fournier, who dropped 32 points in his team debut, said. “From what I saw from him last year, he’s really getting better and better. He understands how to make himself efficient, how to find angles, cut to the rim.
“He’s not a ball handler, he’s so athletic, he feels the game. He knows how to play.”
That niche as a high-energy guy off the bench will only improve the team’s depth, especially with a heavy workload once again expected to be placed on the shoulders of fellow forward, Julius Randle, who started strong once again with 35 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds.
“He’s confident. He’s just playing,” Randle said of Toppin. “Playing to his strengths, his athleticism, his speed, getting out. He’s just taking the game easy. Closeouts, he drives, makes a play at the rim, shoots threes with confidence.
“All of that is just repetition and work. He comes to work every day and works extremely hard.”