Will the real Elfrid Payton please stand up?
One night after the Knicks starting point guard put forth his worst performance as a Knick in a scoreless disaster, he emerged Sunday to bludgeon the powerhouse Bucks in a 130-110 stunner that gave Tom Thibodeau his first victory as Knicks head coach.
It wasn’t a dream. Payton, whose slow start to the season had social media buzzing for his benching, actually racked up 26 points, making all three of his 3-pointers and shooting 12 of 16.
Payton also dished out three assists. His two late 3-pointers in the third essentially salted the game away. Payton’s biggest weakness is his wretchedness from beyond the arc as he shot just 21 percent from deep last season.
Payton wasn’t the only Knick who looked like a new man as “The Greek Freak” got a heaping of humble pie at the Garden. Even Sunday’s backup point guard Frank Ntilikina came off the bench to drill all four of his 3-point shots.
RJ Barrett also put Saturday’s clunkfest behind him with 17 points. And Julius Randle continued his stellar play (27 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists) and didn’t get embarrassed in defending Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was taken out early in the fourth quarter in a sign of surrender.
Too bad the Garden was mostly desolate because this one could go down as one of the season’s few highlights as the Knicks moved to 1-2 after double-digit losses to Indiana and Philadelphia in which they collapsed in the second half.
Instead, Sunday’s Knicks only got better in the second half, mounting a 28-point bulge early in the fourth after taking a 61-45 halftime lead.
Antetokounmpo was “held” to 25 points, 13 rebounds and five assists as the Knicks broke their four-game losing streak against Milwaukee.
The Knicks won’t play at the Garden again in 2020 as they begin a four-game road trip starting Tuesday in Cleveland and continuing to Tampa for a New Year’s Eve battle versus the Raptors before finishing out the trip in Indiana and Atlanta.
The Knicks put together an 11-0 run late in the first half that was capped by Alec Burks’ 3-pointer. Then Randle buried an off-balance, last-second 3-pointer as the Knicks took that 16-point lead at intermission.
It was a stirring bounce-back performance from both Payton and Barrett, who were awful in the home opener against the Sixers. Burks also came off the bench to drop in a smooth 18 points — 15 in the first half.
The embattled Payton was scoreless Saturday night, going 0 for 6 and missing all his 3-pointers while garnering just one assist.
Sunday, Payton, hit two early floaters, then drained a rare 3-pointer. By halftime, he had amassed 11 points and three assists.
The point-guard play was a disaster versus the Sixers but straightened out spectacularly against Milwaukee. With Dennis Smith Jr. out with a bruised quad, Ntilikina inherited the backup point guard role and delivered 18 strong minutes off the bench when he scorched from deep — 4 of 4 from the 3-point line.
Barrett was a bigger disaster than Payton Saturday in a 2 of 15 brickfest. He stayed aggressive and muscled his way for his points Sunday.
Antetokounmpo scored on the first possession, receiving a bounce pass from Khris Middletown and laying it in. But the Knicks mostly controlled the “Greek Freak,” keeping him from destroying the rim.
The Bucks also were a horrendous 8 of 38 from the 3-point line. The Knicks shook off a terrible 3-point shooting performance Saturday to drill in 15 of 26 versus Milwaukee.
“The biggest thing is the way he attacks the paint,’’ Thibodeau said beforehand of the Bucks superstar. “You can’t guard him individually — we have to guard him with our team. So it will require great effort, multiple efforts.”
The effort was there this time for four quarters.
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