Speaking with reporters after practice on Tuesday, Julius
Randle, the New York Knicks' All-NBA forward, was asked what he and
teammates were expecting in their season-opener at Madison Square
"Chaos," Randle replied. "We're expecting chaos. The city's
excited to get basketball back."
Randle was referring to the much-anticipated chaotic atmosphere
inside MSG, which welcomed back its full allotment of 19,000-plus
fans for the first time since before the COVID pandemic shut down
sports arenas across the globe.
What Randle, who has only been in New York for a relatively
short spell, didn't realize is that Knicks fans had, unfortunately,
grown far too accustomed to chaos — and not the kind that results
from fans enthusiastically and passionately cheering on their
hometown team. No, New Yorkers have been deluged with turmoil and
chaos off the court for the better part of the past two decades.
There was beef between former franchise greats and the team's
owner, embarrassing trades, countless off-court controversies,
tension between the owner and numerous fans, free-agency
disappointment year after year, wasted draft picks and anything
else you can think of.
Not to mention the losses. Many, many losses. Over the first 20
years of the 21st century, the Knicks lost 962 basketball games,
more than any other team in the NBA. More often than not, New York
was a league-wide laughing stock, trapped in the basement of the
However, a funny thing has happened over the past
year-and-a-half since the Knicks hired former player-agent Leon
Rose as team president, and Rose hired Tom Thibodeau as his head
coach: the Knicks stopped making headlines for the wrong reason.
They started winning basketball games.
Meanwhile, the drama and controversy that tormented the Knicks
for so long seemed to wander across the bridge to Brooklyn and
drive down the Jersey turnpike to Philly.
The Nets, while uber-talented and the odds-on favorites to
capture the Larry O'Brien trophy this season, are playing without
their superstar point guard. Players on the Knicks and Nets, who
play their home games in New York City, are prohibited from
entering their team's home arena unless they are vaccinated against
COVID-19. All Knicks have been immunized, but Irving has refused to
follow the advice of medical experts, and says he is unwilling to
get his shot. While Irving is eligible to participate in the Nets'
away games, Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks has declared that
Irving will not be allowed to play or practice with the team at all
until he is vaccinated.
"He has a choice to make, and he made his choice," Marks told
reporters earlier this month.
Down in Philadelphia, the situation with the Sixers and Ben
Simmons has devolved into a circus. The latest incident involves
Simmons being booted from the team's training facility a day after
he was filmed practicing in sweatpants. (Despite speculation about
him practicing with a cell phone in his pocket, The Athletic's
Shams Charania clarified that it was a crumpled up practice
As far as the other teams in the Atlantic are concerned, the
Raptors — who won a title in 2019 — had been remarkably
successful and consistent, winning more than 50 games in five
straight seasons... until they surprisingly finished 18 games below
.500 last year. After losing franchise cornerstone Kyle Lowry via
free agency over the summer, Toronto was blown out by the lowly
Wizards in its season-opener Wednesday night. The Raps scored just
83 points, the least among all teams that have played over the
first two days of the season.
Up in Boston, the Celtics failed to finish above .500 last
season for just the second time in the past 15 years, and as a
result parted ways with team architect Danny Ainge over the summer.
Head coach Brad Stevens left the bench and went upstairs to the
The Knicks, however, flew under the radar all offseason. After
finishing 10 games above .500 in 2020-21, they had a solid draft
and were praised by pundits for
revamping and upgrading their backcourt in free agency, while also
locking up Randle to a long-term contract extension on a
team-friendly deak. The team didn't generate any headlines on Media
Day, which used to be one of the few days a year the Knicks would
land on the back page of the NYC tabloids.
It was the Celtics who were matched up with the Knickerbockers
in their home-opener. As it turned out, Mr. Randle was proven
prophetic. Chaos consumed Wednesday's contest.
New York fell behind early. but fought back to take what
appeared to be an insurmountable lead in the closing seconds, only
to inexplicably allow the Celtics to tie the game on a Marcus Smart
three-pointer at the buzzer in regulation.
Yet, somehow, after two exhausting overtime sessions, the Knicks
found a way to win. This was a game the "LOL same-old Knicks"
surely would have fumbled away after that backbreaking dagger by
Smart. Yet, these new Knicks, nearly all of them in great shape
following a month in camp with Drill Sergeant Thibs, kept fighting.
Eventually, they won.
"We didn't close out the game the way we should have," Thibodeau
said afterward. "We'll learn from that. The good thing is we got
the win. We know we have a lot of work to do."
And that's what the topic of conversation will be around the
ball club this week. No needless drama, no controversy. Just
discussions about how the team won a basketball game and what they
can do to improve and win some more. Imagine that...
- What an effort from Randle, who is determined to
prove his All-Star campaign last season wasn't a fluke. He finished
with 35 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. According to Basketball-Reference, the
only other player in NBA history to tally at least 35 points, 9
dimes and 8 boards in his team's season opener is Oscar
- In the first half, RJ Barrett was invisible on
the offensive end (it was the first time in his career he attempted
at least three FG's and two FT's in the first half, yet failed to
score a single point). However, Barrett certainly made his
impression felt in the third quarter, pouring in a team-high 14
points to push the Knicks back in front. And while Jayson Tatum
missed a handful of wide-open jumpers, Barrett certainly deserves
credit for his defensive effort on Taum, who finished the game
shooting an abysmal 7-of-30 from the floor.
- Randle also deserves credit for helping
reintegrate Barrett into the offense and sparking his teammate's
third-quarter resurgence. Over one 2-minute stretch, Randle twice
drew double teams and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Barrett,
who knocked down a triple. Randle carried the Knicks offensively,
but also passed up some good shots for great shots to get Barrett
- Obi Toppin's contributions on Wednesday were
critical. The second-year pro sparked the Knicks, scoring a
career-high 14 points. Toppin's electric game energizes the Garden
in a way few players can. "I thought he changed the pace of the
game," Kemba Walker said of Obi. "He's a very special talent, and
he can run. He can really run and get out in the open floor."
- Some fans and pundits out there argued over the
summer that Evan Fournier wasn't much of an upgrade over former
shooting guard Reggie Bullock. Well, it's probably worth noting
that Bullock has played 366 games in his career and never tallied
more than 20 points and more than 5 rebounds in the same game. On
Wednesday, Fournier had 32 points, 6 boards, 6 made treys, 4 steals
and 3 assists in his first game as a Knick.
- Some 10 minutes after the buzzer sounded in the
second overtime, Knicks rookies Quentin Grimes and Miles "Deuce"
McBride were on the Garden floor getting shots up, as MSG
janitorial staff were cleaning the rest of the arena. This was
something last season's neophytes, Toppin and Immanuel Quickley,
would often do after games in which they didn't get much run. Yet
another example of Thibs, his staff, and the players efforting to
build a culture that can sustain success throughout the