Gardens is thriving as the Knicks dominate the Rockets on both ends

Gardens is thriving as the Knicks dominate the Rockets on both ends

Mike Vaccaro


This is the kind of play that brings a basketball court to life, making it pulse with enough electricity to power 40 city blocks. It could certainly be Madison Square Garden, but it could also be the courts at Rucker Park or West Fourth Street. It could be Rose Hill, Draddy Gym, or Alumni Hall. It can be a CYO gym with a short ceiling and hall floor.

But yes: this person happened to be in the park.

It happened Wednesday night, in front of 19,439 fans, 5 1/2 minutes before the game ended. The Knicks had a comfortable lead of 93-81, but as usual, they continued to play sloppy defense.

In the NBA, in 2024, this stands out. The Nuggets and 76ers scored 156 points in the first half the night before. The Knicks went 11 games all last year when they faced an opponent under 100 games. They will soon reach the total of 12 this year, already, exactly halfway through the season.

Now Isaiah Hartenstein rose to block a layup from Houston’s Jalen Green. Josh Hart fished the vines away from Green, dribbled twice, looked up, and spotted Julius Randle heading toward the left side of the floor. Hart passed to Randle. And with a quick touch pass that would have suited Rucker perfectly, or at West Forth, he fed OG Anunoby. Anunoby dunked.

Josh Hart reacts after hitting a shot during the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ 109-94 win over the Rockets. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The garden exploded.

“I think the park definitely liked it,” Randle said.

Yes, of course. she wanted. There was a lot to like when the Knicks escaped the Rockets 109-94, a great way to celebrate the 30th anniversary season since these teams competed for an NBA championship and Tom Thibodeau’s 66th birthday. It wasn’t always pretty and it took two and a half quarters for the Knicks to hit their stride.

But they finally hit their stride.

And when they did, they reminded why the second half of this season, with a reasonable amount of luck and a reasonable amount of health, might have more to enjoy than the first half, which the Knicks finished 24-17. Winners of seven of their nine games since Anunoby arrived from Toronto.

“And if we get a couple of rebounds,” Thibodeau helpfully reminded us, “we might be on a (nine) game winning streak.”

Jalen Brunson reacts after scoring and drawing a foul during the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ win. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Those games — at Dallas last week, against Orlando on Monday afternoon — were over and done with, and Thibodeau wasn’t lamenting missed opportunities so much as emphasizing his most important point: “In the month of January, we’re playing pretty good basketball.”

they. And they’re ready to continue that at least through the end of the month, with a set of home games starting Thursday night against the 7-32 Wizards. The play we describe above was just one of a number of wonderful moments that delighted the park. Earlier, Donte DiVincenzo finished off a beautiful steal and fast break by not looking at Randle for a dunk.

OG Anunoby shoots the ball over Rockets center Alperen Sengun during the fourth quarter
Knicks win. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

On the other hand, there is defense, which has now become a habit. The Knicks still have cramps and, like all teams, still succumb to 60- and 65-point runs at times. In 2024, every team can have a night like the Raptors had against the Heat on Wednesday, hitting 20 of 38 3s. However, most nights, the Knicks bring their own lunch buckets.

And for a coach who cut his teeth in the NBA in the 1990s, when defense was the dismal system of the day, it’s a better birthday gift for Thibodeau than an entire Junior’s cheesecake with 66 candles on it.

“As we move forward, we emphasize improvement,” he said. “It’s been a little up and down but we’ve kept going. We have a lot of work to do, and we haven’t been able to solve everything. We have to keep going for now.”

Fred VanVleet hits a shot while Jalen Brunson jumps on defense during Knicks’ win. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

But they’re working with a great chemistry group now, on both ends of the Earth. It doesn’t take much to reset this badly, as the Knicks found out the previous two games when they narrowly escaped junior varsity Memphis before chipping away at a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Magic with Brunson looking on at the Civil.

But the Knicks were consistent again on Wednesday, helping Brunson’s 30-point comeback join Randle’s 31 points in holding five Knicks to double figures. Randle was speaking for himself but he could have been speaking for the entire Knicks world when he recalled what he said to Brunson after his two-game leave.

“I told him to get his ass back out there,” Randle said with a smile.

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