This felt like the college powerhouse handpicking its first opponent to impress the home fans. A carefully selected team intended to create a sense of optimism.
Though the Knicks had no say in who they opened up with at the Garden on Friday night, the Pistons would have been at the top of their list if they had that option: A young team feeling good coming off its first season-opening victory in three years.
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Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Co. were perfect foils, easy marks for the far hungrier, ball-moving Knicks. Tom Thibodeau’s team didn’t mess around after the disappointing overtime loss to the Grizzlies two nights ago, leading by 10 after one quarter and cruising to its first win, a 130-106 whipping of Detroit at a joyous and sold-out Garden.
“We knew the energy we had to come out with, and we just had a lot of fun and shared the ball,” said Obi Toppin, a force off the bench with 16 points in 21 minutes.
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Pick a player, basically any player who touched the court, and he was productive for the Knicks. The starters continued to thrive. The second unit excelled. Players who weren’t at their best in the opener — RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Toppin, Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley — were terrific, and the ball bounced the Knicks’ way. Even when a Rose feed for a cutting Isaiah Hartenstein went through his hands, it caromed to Toppin for an uncontested 3-pointer.
Jalen Brunson was steady in his home debut in the building he basically grew up in, Barrett rebounded from his poor-shooting opener, and Julius Randle was efficient and unselfish. Six Knicks scored in double figures, led by 20 from Quickley (seven rebounds, seven assists), 18 from Barrett and 17 from Brunson (six assists). The Knicks (1-1) pushed the pace even after made baskets, a preseason focus. The ball quickly moved side to side, inside and out, as it did during the exhibition season, to the tune of 29 assists. Of the 10 Knicks’ rotation players, seven shot at least 50 percent from the field. This was easy-on-the-eyes offense.
“It’s something we’ve practiced since the very beginning at training camp,” Randle said, referring to the increased pace at which the previously-plodding Knicks are playing. “I think it’s a fun brand of basketball that we’re all enjoying, and we’re excited to keep building on it.”
The Pistons (1-1) had a lot to do with the 20-point bulge at the half. They missed nine of their first 10 free throws, were loose with the ball and treated defense like an optional exercise. Detroit played like a young team, brief wow moments followed by defensive miscues and unforced turnovers.
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Rose (13 points, six assists) keyed the rout, producing 11 points and two assists in five first-half minutes as the Knicks turned a two-point edge into a 13-point lead behind their reserves.
“We need that from our bench,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They played well as a group, and that was the most pleasing thing.”
When Quickley sank a top-of-the-key 3-pointer — his first points of the season after a scoreless debut — to cap a 17-3 run with 7:24 left in the first half, the Knicks held a 22-point advantage. It grew to 29 at one point, as the Knicks got basically any shot they wanted.
The Pistons got as close as 12, late in the third quarter as last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick Cunningham began to heat up, but that was just a blip. Cam Reddish answered with a dunk through the lane and Quickley sank a 3-pointer. There were no tense moments on this night for the Knicks. The home opener was without stress. It felt more like an introduction to this team’s potential, made possible by an overwhelmed opponent.
“You can see it,” Barrett said, “when we kind of get it going like we did tonight it’s scary.”