Knicks Fall to Raptors Amid Flurry of 3-Pointers

Close to the top of the primary quarter on Monday, Julius Randle, the Knicks’ burly All-Star ahead, pulled up and banked in a shot from 25 ft. It was the type of shot that may have despatched him to the bench in a earlier period of basketball, and even on a earlier Tom Thibodeau-coached group. On Monday, it was Randle’s fourth 3-pointer in 12 minutes.

It was additionally a shot emblematic of the new-look Knicks: This yr’s model is taking 3-pointers. A lot of them. Within the first quarter alone towards the Toronto Raptors on Monday, 13 of the Knicks’ 19 pictures — and 5 of Randle’s — had been from behind the 3-point line. The strategy has been an indicator of the new Bing Bong era of the Knicks, and it’s a part of the explanation Thibodeau’s group is off to a 5-2 begin, the franchise’s greatest because the 2012-13 season.

Of their second recreation, the Knicks set a group file for many 3-point discipline objectives in a recreation with 24, on the way in which to a 121-96 victory. This yr, the Knicks are taking 40.6 deep pictures per recreation; that’s good for eighth in the N.B.A. and 10 extra per recreation than final season, when the Knicks ranked close to the bottom of the league in attempts.

“With the three, you may make up floor shortly,” Thibodeau stated. Or not. On Monday, the Knicks tried 38 of them, however didn’t make sufficient of them and absorbed their second defeat of the season, a 113-104 loss to the Raptors.

Whereas the Knicks didn’t attempt as many 3s final season, they had been correct within the ones they shot: 39.2 % general, good for third within the N.B.A. This yr, they’re close to the highest in accuracy once more, solely with extra quantity. At their present price, the Knicks are on observe to have a top-five offense for the primary time since that 2012-13 group.

The Knicks have additionally picked up their tempo, if solely barely. Final season, the Knicks had been dead last in fast-break points. This yr, they are 22nd.

“I believe that is the quickest I’ve seen them play for a very long time,” Toronto Coach Nick Nurse stated earlier than Monday’s recreation.

The early optimistic returns on the Knicks’ season are the clearest indication that Thibodeau — a coach recognized for cussed adherence to his model of bodily basketball — is able to adjusting to the brand new realities of the fashionable N.B.A. He has reinvented the group’s offensive id with a easy mantra.

“Drive the ball, get your spacing, make your rim learn — preserve the sport easy,” Thibodeau instructed reporters on Monday, including, “After we try this, we’re actually good.”

Nonetheless, the transition to a extra 3-pointer-heavy offense wasn’t merely a case of telling the group to shoot extra of them.

Thibodeau acquired a major help — or by some interpretations, had his hand compelled — by a shift in personnel. Final season, the Knicks’ place to begin guard was Elfrid Payton, a nonshooter whom opposing defenses would typically ignore on the perimeter, clogging the paint for Randle and leaving him extra vulnerable to double groups. This yr, Kemba Walker has occupied that spot, and he entered Monday night time capturing an virtually assuredly unsustainable 57.9 % on 3-pointers.

It’s not simply having higher shooters. Walker and Evan Fournier are superior ballhandlers, and their arrival, together with the improved RJ Barrett, permits the Knicks to extra simply break down defenses and create open alternatives on the skin.

Having a wholesome Mitchell Robinson within the beginning lineup has been a lift as properly. At 7 ft, Robinson attracts consideration on the rim as one of many Knicks’ greatest alley-oop threats on the basket. That provides the Knicks extra space on the perimeter to create open seems to be.

If there’s a worrisome signal, it’s on the defensive finish, the place the Knicks have been below average — one thing extremely uncommon for a Thibodeau-coached group. Whereas the Knicks have been taking plenty of 3s, additionally they give up a lot — greater than all however two groups within the N.B.A.

Their new acquisitions — Walker and Fournier — aren’t recognized for his or her protection. On Monday, the Knicks surrendered seems to be — and factors — on the within and out of doors to Raptors ahead OG Anunoby, who scored 36 factors. Whereas Toronto made solely 14 of its 42 3-point pictures, it was sufficient to pad a double-digit lead within the second half.

Seven video games isn’t an enormous pattern measurement. Inevitably, some capturing numbers, like Walker’s, will return to earth. However the new-look Knicks, with a glossy, modern offense, appear to have the personnel to benefit their early optimism.

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