Knicks rookie power forward Obi Toppin made his return from a three-week absence — and it lasted 57 seconds.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said he’d be cautious with Toppin, after he surprisingly was cleared to play. And in the Knicks’ 116-109 win over the Nets on Wednesday, Thibodeau spotted the rookie for less than a minute in the second quarter to spell Julius Randle. Toppin has been out since the regular-season opener with a left-calf strain.
“I was unsure if I was going to play him just because he hasn’t practiced, and so I saw an opportunity where I thought I might be able to get him in for a couple minutes just to sort of shake some rust off and see where he is conditioning-wise,’’ Thibodeau said. “I didn’t like the matchups and we were getting pounded on the boards, so I changed to get Julius back in there just so we could get going.
“I was concerned about how the game was going at that particular point. I felt like that was going to be a good possibility. But I also felt if I got an opportunity to get him in I was going to try to do that. We’ll get back at it tomorrow, and we’ll move it along and obviously practice for him will be good and we’ll go from there.’’
With the Knicks down 18 and less than four minutes left, Thibodeau had another chance to give Toppin garbage-time duty. But he stayed with Randle, looking for a miracle rally. And the Knicks made a stout comeback that fell short with Kevin Durant on the bench for the Nets.
The downside of making the score look respectable is that Randle logged another 40 minutes. He’s third in the league in minutes this season.
Asked if he would be better off resting for the 72-game grind, Randle said: “I’m in the moment. Coach has me out there for a reason. When I’m out there, I’m going to compete and work as hard as I can. A lot of good things happened at the end. We showed throughout the course of the game, you got to keep fighting. That’s what we did. As long as I’m out there, I’m going to compete as hard as I can and try to impact winning the game.”
Toppin was not made available for comment after the game, but beforehand he said the time off actually helped.
“I’m super excited to be back,” Toppin said. “I’m a little rusty. But I’ll be ready when Coach calls my name. It hasn’t been difficult at all. In college, I sat out a whole year [redshirt]. It helped me tremendously. I got a chance to understand what pace I need to play at and what things I need to work on and knowing what I have to do to help the team win. I’ve been learning all that throughout the process.”
Newly signed Taj Gibson was available for action but did not play. He hasn’t played since March 11 in Atlanta.
The Post has learned he signed for the $2.5 million veteran’s minimum.
Nets coach Steve Nash on the barren Garden: “The Garden without fans just doesn’t seem right. Obviously, we’ll take any win we can get. But yeah, it’s not the same without fans, frankly. But that’s the world we live in.’’
Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley busted out of a slump to hit for 19 points and took extra shooting practice afterward, before the Garden crew started covering the hardwood to set up for the Rangers’ season opener.
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