After three dreadful quarters, the Knicks’ kiddie corps heated up in the fourth quarter. They did everything but make the snow stop.
Trailing by 18 points in the third quarter and 17 early in the fourth, the Knicks’ young guns, headed by rookie combo guard Immanuel Quickley and a suddenly resurgent Kevin Knox, propelled a comeback and a stirring 100-93 win over the Cavaliers in the fan-less preseason home opener.
After looking lethargic in the early going, Knox scorched in a sensational fourth to hit three 3-pointers and finish with 16 points as the Knicks posted a masterpiece 34-13 final frame.
“We came out with different-type energy and locked in on the defensive end,’’ said Knox, who struggled in the first two preseason games and looked lethargic in the first half Wednesday. “We just made the right plays down the stretch. We got stops and ran transition.’’
Quickley, the 25th pick in the draft, was a second-half spark in his first game at the Garden as a Knick and ignited the offense with his movement. Quickley didn’t shoot for a high percentage (3 of 11), but finished with nine electric points and seven assists.
If this wasn’t a pandemic, the Garden’s roof would have shook to its fibers. As it was, the Garden pumped in a wave of fake crowd noise most noticeable in the final period when the Knicks shot 66.7 percent.
“I was talking to all my guys before the game started how an NBA game with fans would be unbelievable,’’ Quickley said. “It felt good to have success with no fans. I know this place can get crazy. The public address announcer had it going with no fans. I couldn’t imagine it with fans. ’’
The quintet of Knox, Quickley, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin and RJ Barrett lit up the night in the fourth. Knox, Quickley, Robinson — playing with five fouls — and Toppin played the entire quarter. Veteran Julius Randle (17 points) was benched in the final 12 minutes.
The Knicks (2-1) scored just 13 points in the third quarter before they awoke with those young legs and overshadowed their 3-point shooting woes. Tom Thibodeau had said he wants to take advantage of the “athleticism’’ of their youth.
“I think the big thing was our defensive intensity picked up,’’ Thibodeau said. “We got energy from that, we got stops, we got into the open floor. I thought Dennis [Smith] got us going with some good pressure. When Quick came in that changed it some more. That’s how we have to play. Sometimes when you get going with your defense it’s funny the energy that it brings to your offense. And then all of the sudden a couple of shots go down and things are good for you offensively.”
Barrett was a barreling beast in his third straight solid outing, finishing with 16 points. Shaking off early foul trouble, Robinson scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds in making his first start as Nerlens Noel sat with a sore knee.
Toppin, after a quiet start, added eight points and a vicious last-minute dunk. In a scene that felt more poignant than two points, rookie Quickley lofted a lob for his fellow rookie Toppin, who slammed it home during the fourth-quarter rush.
“We played good together, everyone was playing hard,’’ Quickley said. “Moving the basketball, getting stops on defense, we were just having fun playing basketball. That’s the main thing.’’
Earlier, the Cavaliers — even without Kevin Love, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr. — were killing the Knicks from deep and that was the sad storyline. The Knicks started the game 3 of 25 from the 3-point line as the Cavaliers built an 18-point lead in the third period. The Cavaliers were 12 of 23 from 3 after three quarters.
This wasn’t the way Thibodeau wanted to start in his first game as Knicks head coach at the Garden, where he served as a longtime assistant to Jeff Van Gundy.
“It’s unfortunate the fans can’t be here,’’ Thibodeau said before the game. “But there’s no better place for big games in this building and the knowledge of the fans if you make a good basketball play it’s recognized.’’
Indeed, it was too bad.