Elfrid Payton may not be the long-term answer for the Knicks at point guard. But he was exactly what they needed on Sunday night.
Payton had 27 points, seven assists and hit 12 of his 16 shot attempts to lift New York to a 20-point win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Payton’s big night came less than 24 hours after he went scoreless in 18 minutes in a 20-point loss to Philadelphia.
“That’s what you love about him. He comes in, he gives you what he has and he knows how to bounce back. In this league you have to have that ability,” Tom Thibodeau said of his starting point guard.
Thibodeau won his first game as Knicks head coach thanks to bounce-back efforts from Payton and RJ Barrett. Barrett went 2-for-15 in the loss to Philadelphia. Against Milwaukee, he had 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He made seven of his 17 attempts.
Thibodeau credited Barrett for handling the extra attention he’s seen from opposing defenses.
“You have to use their aggressiveness the way they are closing out to our team’s advantage,” he said. “He’s doing that with penetrating drives and pressure on the defense and forcing defenses to collapse. He continues to get better with rim reads and I think he can be a dynamic playmaker.”
The Knicks improved to 1-2, beating one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Alec Burks (18 points, five assists) and Julius Randle (29 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists) teamed with Payton to push New York on Sunday. Thibodeau credited his players for continuing to improve incrementally, a theme he’s spoken about throughout the preseason.
“We’re not going to get carried away with one win,” Thibodeau said. “I think you can’t lose sight of the work part of it. We always say that the magic is in the work, and it really is.”
The best-case scenario for the Knicks this season involves making a jump from their 21-45 mark last season while developing some of the young players. In that sense, Thibodeau was the club’s most important offseason acquisition. He’s tasked with building a winning culture from the ground up while also trying to developing some of the Knicks young players.
It seems like the coach and his staff have done well so far with Barrett, who bounced back on Sunday after an off night against Philadelphia. Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox also played well on Sunday. Ntilikina made the most of his minutes after playing solely in garbage time against Philly. Ntilikina hit all four of his three-point attempts and helped New York maintain its leads against Milwaukee at different points in the game.
Toppin, Quickley Updates
The best-case scenario for Obi Toppin is a return to the court on Jan. 6.
Toppin is sidelined with a calf strain and will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. Even if he’s cleared to practice next Saturday, Toppin will need some time to regain his wind/conditioning.
“When you miss that type of time, with that type of injury, there’s going to be a period of time for him to get back to speed in terms of playing,” Thibodeau said. “And so obviously with a calf, you can’t run or jump, so the conditioning component will factor into that as well.”
Immanuel Quickley (hip) continues to make progress on his injury but hasn’t been cleared for contact. Austin Rivers (groin) has been cleared to take contact and is expected to do so on Monday. Rivers has missed the entire preseason and regular season due to a groin ailment.
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