Despite all the mixing and matching Tom Thibodeau has done in training camp, the Knicks coach admitted it was kismet that brought about “The Quickley Quintet” in the fourth quarter of the preseason home opener Wednesday.
Led by rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, the five young Knicks who closed out the 100-93 victory over the Cavaliers with a game-winning 19-2 run came together as a result of last-minute injuries.
The Knicks’ kids — all members of either the 2018, 2019 or 2020 draft classes — engineered a stirring comeback as Thibodeau stuck with the unit for the final seven minutes. The Knicks had trailed by 17 points early in the fourth.
Frank Ntilikina (sore Achilles), center Nerlens Noel (sore knee) and Alec Burks (personal reasons) all missed the game.
None of the three are expected back for Friday’s preseason finale against the Cavaliers at the Garden.
Hence “The Quickley Quintet,” which also featured RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Obi Toppin and Mitchell Robinson, will likely be back together for an encore.
“It was great,” Toppin said after the Knicks practiced Thursday at the Garden. “We’re the young guys on the team. Coach always tells us because we’re young, we got to be those guys to bring the energy. In those last seven minutes we had to do whatever we can do to inch back and we did — Kevin hitting a lot of 3s and Mitch getting in some blocks. Everyone did their part and did what they had to do.”
Toppin, drafted last month with the No. 8-overall pick, said he was speechless when told, at 22, he was the oldest player on that unit.
A training-camp theme has been how much Thibodeau, normally wary of rookies, has relied on his young players. He stated on Media Day he would go with the guys who “impact winning,’’ regardless of age.
That’s exactly what happened Wednesday, with Quickley showing he may have the bona fides to be the starting point guard.
“The energy we brought, it was just great,’’ said Robinson, who started the game due to Noel’s injury. “Immanuel came in and did his thing. Obi continued to keep his pace up. It was all good all around.”
Starting point guard Elfrid Payton and starting power forward Julius Randle sat on the pine for the entire 12-minute final frame.
So what now, Tom?
“We’ll see how the game unfolds,’’ Thibodeau said after the club stayed overnight and practiced at the Garden on Thursday. “We’re still evaluating. I thought the whole fourth quarter was good. We had stretches where we didn’t play well but the finish was very good. Still mix and match, still learning a lot about the team and then concentrate on areas of improvement.”
It doesn’t take a Pat Riley to realize this group needs another long look. To be fair, point guard Dennis Smith Jr. played a role in the 33-12 fourth quarter, too. Smith opened the quarter and didn’t come out for Barrett until 7:00 remained — not before he had two steals, a 3-pointer and set up Knox for a trey.
Knox, the Knicks’ 2018 lottery pick, was 4-for-4 in the final period — making all his three of 3s — after playing 11 shaky quarters prior to that. The Knicks shot 66.7 percent in the quarter.
“I got to stay confident, keep shooting and making plays for other people,’’ Knox said. “Defensively, I locked in in the second half. I was way better energy-wise, making the right reads offensively, making the right passes and knocking down shots. I just got to continue playing with confidence and energy on both sides of the court and I’ll be fine.”
Quickley, like Knox a Kentucky alum, sparked the whole deal with his command of the offense and finding seams in Cleveland’s zone to create. He finished with six assists in the final period. The zone had been working because of the Knicks’ preseason-long troubles from the 3-point line.
“He’s making the right reads off pick-and-rolls,’’ Knox said. “He did a really good job of that. I just think he energized us as a team. He’s a great, smart player.’’
The 6-foot-3 Quickley played mostly off the ball at Kentucky, and NBA scouts wondered if he had an NBA position due to his size. He was projected as a mid-to-late second-rounder, but the Knicks took him at 25.
Now Thibodeau has big point-guard decisions ahead, especially since Austin Rivers still is in the picture despite missing preseason with a pulled groin.
“I don’t know whether he’s a point guard or shooting guard,’’ Thibodeau said of Quickley. “But he’s a guard. He’s very smart and he’s tough. I think you can put the ball in his hands. He can run the offense, he can play off the ball. And that’s what makes him hard to guard. He’s getting better and better. ‘’
Quickley executed alley-oop lobs to Robinson, Toppin and Knox, already finding that chemistry.
“Very impressed,’’ Robinson said. “He’s come in and studied hard at practice. To learn us bigs that quick, it’s amazing.’’
Barrett got going as a playmaker, too, drawing a double team on a drive and dishing for a game-sealing Toppin dunk late in the surge.
“It was great to see us all on the court at the same time,’’ Knox said. “We were playing together and hard we helped the team come back and played with energy on both sides of the court. It was good to play with all the young guys and play with energy and hopefully we keep that lineup going and play with energy as a team.’’
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