Improved defense hasn’t been the only contributing factor in the Knicks’ first four-game winning streak of the season, but it’s impossible to ignore the recent numbers at that end of the court.
Certainly, expanded roles for second-year guard Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride have provided a tangible boost, but holding their past four opponents to a stingy 92.8 points per game has been a team-wide effort, according to head coach Tom Thibodeau.
“I think Quentin and Deuce have added a lot, but I also don’t wanna take away from what the other guys have done,” Thibodeau said after Sunday’s 112-99 win over the Kings. “I think when you start digging into the numbers, you see that it’s been pretty good.”
Thibodeau often states that the defensive metric he looks at and stresses the most is opponents’ field-goal percentage, and the Knicks (14-13) rank fifth in the NBA in that category overall for the season at 44.7 percent.
Still, they have held their opponents to 39.1 percent from the floor during the winning streak, which would rank first in the league by a wide margin over a full season, with the Bucks the current leader at 44.6 percent overall.
The far bigger disparity in the wins over the Cavaliers, Hawks, Hornets and Kings has come on the defensive perimeter. The Knicks have limited their opponents to 22.1 percent from 3-point range, as opposed to 35.5 percent over their 10-13 start. The current league leader — the Sixers — have allowed 33.1 percent conversions from long distance this season.
“Defense has really just picked up, making a conscious effort, especially guys like Deuce and Quentin, Quick, just ball-hawking,” RJ Barrett said, also referring to reserve guard Immanuel Quickley. “And [center] Mitch [Robinson], down there protecting the paint. It’s been huge for us. Got to try to keep things up on the defensive end as much as we can.”
Grimes has averaged 35.3 minutes per game during the streak, including a season-high 42 on Sunday, while McBride has logged 88 minutes over the four games. They have provided length and intensity at the defensive end since Cam Reddish and Derrick Rose were dropped from the rotation, although one of them could be reinserted Wednesday in Chicago based on starting point guard Jalen Brunson’s availability after suffering a sprained ankle against the Kings.
“It’s really just playing hard, giving extra effort. We’re not going to be perfect every game, we’re going to make mistakes. As long as we give 110 percent, out-hustle our mistakes, we’ll be fine,” Grimes said. “I feel like we’ve been doing that the past four games.
“It’s a young lineup, next man up. It’s all the young guys with me, Deuce, Quick, RJ, but it’s fun. Those are guys you know. We have the same age gap, all 22 and younger. I feel like it’s easier to go out there and play, have fun, and go out there and get a win. That was fun getting out there with all the young guys.”
During the winning streak, the Knicks also have averaged 38.5 defensive rebounds per game, as opposed to 33.8 over the previous 23. That has contributed to a decrease in shots allowed (91.7 per game to 83.8) and 3-point attempts allowed (39.5 to 34.0), hence fewer opportunities for second-chance points over that stretch through Sunday.
Since their 122-100 loss to Dallas one week earlier, per The Athletic, the Knicks have moved up from 26th in points allowed per possession to a tie for 10th overall entering Monday’s league action.
“Really just locking in a little bit more, you could say. We were pretty good defensively in the paint. But the 3-point line is where we were getting hurt,” Quickley said. “That was kind of a point of emphasis from Coach.
“We all gotta talk, especially against shooters. Just try to make them do something else that they don’t want to do. … We try to make it tough for everybody. Just try to make it a tough shot every time down. That’s all you can really ask. There’s a lot of great players in this league that make tough shots. You just try to make it as tough for them as you can each and every play.”
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