Knicks survive disaster as they avoid comeback in win over Pistons

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The Knicks didn’t provide the fire-breathing response or the intense answer expected to their no-show loss to the Nets on Wednesday. 

Yes, the Knicks bounced back Friday night from that 27-point beatdown by their crosstown rivals. But it was more like surviving disaster than a confidence-boosting 48 minutes. 

They knocked off the three-win Pistons, 121-112, on Friday night at the Garden, mostly because the schedule-makers gifted them an inferior opponent that was without its best player. Detroit is rebuilding and didn’t have building block Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft. 

The Knicks had several opportunities to put the hammer down throughout a mediocre performance, but they couldn’t do it until the very end. There were too many defensive lapses and second-chance opportunities given to the Pistons and overall inconsistency, a hallmark of the Knicks (6-6) so far this season. 

RJ Barrett shoots during the first quarter.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Yes, there were positives. RJ Barrett scored 30 points in one of his better games of the young season and Jalen Brunson had 26 points along with seven assists. But the defense was shaky for most of the night. The Pistons, winless so far on the road, got as close as four points with 1:20 left before Barrett hit two free throws and Immanuel Quickley put it away with a left corner 3-pointer as the Knicks returned to .500. 

Six points from Barrett as part of a 9-0 run late in the first quarter helped to snap the Knicks out of a flat start. So did Derrick Rose, who was the first Knick off the bench and registered a plus-12 rating in a six-point, eight-minute opening half. 

For a large stretch in the second quarter, coach Tom Thibodeau went to the Julius Randle-Obi Toppin duo up front (Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein were both in foul trouble, necessitating the move), with Quentin Grimes, Barrett and Brunson in the backcourt. The Knicks built their lead up to 16 with that quintet on the floor, although there was some defense slippage and the Pistons only trailed by 10 at the break. 

Julius Randle, right, embraces Tom Thibodeau.
Julius Randle, right, embraces Tom Thibodeau during the Knicks’ win over the Pistons.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Jalen Brunson scores during the second quarter.
Jalen Brunson scores during the second quarter.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

It was an offensive performance over the first 24 minutes along the lines of several Knicks wins this season: 13 assists on 23 made field goals, points from eight different players and an uptempo attack leading to open looks. The ball moved, the extra passes were made and shots fell. 

The Knicks started the second half well, pushing their lead out to 17, but just as at the end of the second quarter, they couldn’t sustain that advantage. When Jaden Ivey and Hamidou Diallo scored for Detroit on consecutive drives early in the fourth quarter, the Knicks’ lead was down to seven. 

It got even closer in the final 90 seconds. But the Knicks made enough plays down the stretch to prevail, tense as it did get late. That was the biggest positive on an evening rife with negatives. 

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