Knicks advance in In-Season Tournament with blowout win over Hornets

Knicks advance in In-Season Tournament with blowout win over Hornets

Immanuel Quickley remembers like it was yesterday.

His freshman year at Kentucky, the Wildcats went 26-5, then lost game two of the SEC Tournament to Tennessee, costing them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Their fate, at that point, was out of their hands. Quickley recalled going to coach John Calipari’s house on Selection Sunday to learn who his Wildcats would face in the first round.

It ended up being Abilene Christian, and his Kentucky team ran off three straight wins before falling to Auburn in the Midwest regional final.

Quickley felt similar vibes after the Knicks’ 115-91 victory over the Charlotte Hornets in New York’s In-Season Tournament group stage final at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

In a five-way tie at a 3-1 record after sticking it to the Hornets, the Knicks needed a wide margin of victory to satisfy the point differential tie-breaking method to advance to the next round of the tournament.

After the game, the team gathered in the locker room to watch the conclusion of a Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat tournament game with implications that directly impacted the Knicks.

“It was almost like an NCAA feel, like when you’re waiting to see who is being seeded and stuff,” Quickley said postgame. “So it was kind of different being in the NBA. This being the first time having that. So it was kind of different. “

If the Bucks lost, the Knicks would win East Group B outright and host the Boston Celtics in their next tournament game. Milwaukee, however, defeated the Heat, which means the Knicks must travel to Milwaukee for their next tournament game.

The game’s date has yet to be decided, but it will be either Monday or Tuesday.

The winner of that game will travel to Las Vegas for the knockout rounds, and the winner of the entire tournament will receive the first-ever NBA Cup — along with a $500,000 check for each player on the winning team and a $200,000 consolation check for the runner-up.

“I feel like I could get a good Sky-Dweller that I’ll go for,” Knicks reserve forward Josh Hart said postgame. “I heard they might discontinue the Pepsi [-colored Rolex]. So might go for that one. Add to the collection.”

The league’s first-ever In-Season Tournament certainly has its kinks.

For example, the Knicks will now play the Bucks five times in the regular season as opposed to maximum of four times they normally any team in the conference.

“That was one of the quirks that [the league office] had talked about. And there’s also a quirk in which you may have more road games than home games,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau. “So there’s a couple things. And I think eventually that will all get ironed out. But they talked about that initially.”

The Bucks, of course, are a super team that paired Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard over the summer. Milwaukee handed the Knicks a five-point loss earlier in the season. The Knicks now must play them four additional times, and that’s before any potential playoff matchup.

“Whatever you’re circumstances [have], you make the best of them,” Thibodeau said. “They tell us we have to play this team five times, we play them five times. And be ready, whatever it is. If they say it it’s eight times. Whatever the schedule is. Sometimes it’s in your favor, sometimes it’s not. Just be ready to play. That’s where we want the focus to be.”

There’s also split emotions regarding the idea of running up the score. Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan recently got upset at Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam for running up the score in the name of point differential in their Friday In-Season Tournament game.

Hart said he didn’t start paying attention to the point differential until the end of the game, then called it “weird” to pad the scoreboard.

“Yeah it was interesting. I didn’t really like it. We were just focused at first just about winning and then — I don’t know,” he said. “The last couple minutes — it feels weird. At a certain point, you have to start chasing points and doing all that stuff. So it just kinda messes with the integrity of the game a little bit.

“But I get it. We either go by points or play more games. And we’ve got a long schedule. So it was interesting. It was very interesting.”

The cold hard cash speaks for itself.

It might not make much a difference for the max-salary superstars, but players at the end of the bench normally fetch minimum contracts that range anywhere from $1.2 to $3.3 million. Starter Quentin Grimes makes just under $2.4 million this season and made it clear he’s playing for the half-a-million dollars.

Randle is scheduled to earn $28.2 million this season but said he wants the money, though he also wants a trip to Las Vegas.

“From a money standpoint 500K is a lot to anybody. It’s a lot of money. I don’t care what anybody says,” he said after the game. “But for the guys that are not making as much, it’s a big deal. We definitely want to win it for them. They put a lot into this.”

The way the Knicks took the Hornets to the woodshed, it’s clear the team is united in their pursuit of securing an extra bag.

New York came out swinging and jumped to an early 29-13 lead, only to have it undone in the third quarter, when the Hornets cut the Knicks’ lead to one.

The Knicks regrouped and blew the Hornets out of the building.

“They’re a very good offensive team, and I watched their Boston game,” Thibodeau said of the Hornets. “They came back the same way. They put a lot of points up on the board in a short amount of time. They can downside and play small, spread you out, and then you gotta respond to that. And I thought we did.”

Randle put up a monster stat line of 25 points and 20 rebounds, and Quickley came off the bench to score 23 points. The Hornets, without LaMelo Ball (ankle) stood no chance. Their high scorer, rookie Brandon Miller, finished with 18 points.

The Knicks ended up with a 24-point victory and a group-stage point differential of plus-42. The other teams tied at a 3-1 record had a point differential of plus-29 (Cleveland), plus-22 (Orlando) and plus-20 (Brooklyn).

Thibodeau played his core players until the 1:30 mark of the fourth quarter, then laughed postgame about playing stars in blowout games.

“I’m sure you guys will figure something out,” he said. “Too long, too short. One thing I can assure you: [My minutes’ distribution in your eyes is] never just right.”

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