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Many of the TV sets were shut off by the time the Knicks’ newest addition, center Norvel Pelle, entered Saturday’s contest at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit with 2:44 left for his team debut.
The Knicks had already destroyed the Pistons from start to finish in a 125-81 mauling in Motown, building a 14-0 lead that turned into 41-15 after one quarter. The rest of the game was garbage time.
It was a 44-point destruction sorely needed as the Knicks found their motor in the Motor City, no longer looking like they were ready for the junkyard. The Knicks snapped their three-game losing streak by posting the sixth-largest margin of victory in franchise history and got back to .500 at 25-25.
But not before Pelle became an emblem of this tough Knicks team and this Motown romp. Not before this cameo performance by the 6-foot-10 neophyte from St. Croix.
As he got the ball for the first time, Pelle was fouled on his way up for a dunk, and he jammed a finger into the iron rim. As he crash-landed, Pelle looked at his index finger bent in all different directions. And he smiled at the disfigurement.
The Knicks’ trainers rushed out to attend to Pelle. They finally pushed the finger back into place.
Pelle said he wanted to shoot the free throws. Trainer Anthony Goenaga taped up the fingers. Pelle went to the free-throw line, made one of two free throws.
On the other end, the shot-blocking center played the part. The Pistons’ tough rookie first-round pick from upstate Rochester, Isaiah Stewart, tried twice to shoot over Pelle and got blocked each time, first with Pelle’s right hand, then with his left.
A wild ending to a wild night in Detroit. While it is true the Pistons would have trouble winning the NIT, this was an important mauling by the Knicks.
“Seeing a player like that that just joined us to go down with an injury and be able to wrap it right back up and make big blocks showed his energy,’’ said Reggie Bullock, who was the night’s star, scoring 22 points and tying a career high with six 3–pointers. “He’s a Knick-type-of-player with the grit to continue to play in the game. We love that fight from him.’’
It was just a small moment, but symbolic of the toughness Tom Thibodeau’s club has shown through 50 games. Thibodeau admitted before the game he didn’t know much about Pelle, who has played for the 76ers, Kings and Nets.
“Our scouts really liked him,’’ he said.
Thibodeau now knows why. He likes defensively mean centers who smile at dislocated fingers.
“Pretty remarkable,’’ Thibodeau said. “The guy hasn’t gone through any practices. He was ready to go. It looked ugly. You appreciated he wanted to stay in. That’s why we brought him in — the rim protection. It said a lot about him. Obviously pleased the way he played in that short stint there.’’
It was just a bizarre night all around. The Knicks had a 30-point lead just midway through the second quarter and it swelled to 40 in the final period. The early scores were ridiculous — 14-0, 16-1, 24-3. The limited fans on hand should demand their money back, though some were decked out in Knicks jerseys.
“Just loved the togetherness and spirit of the team,’’ Thibodeau said. “They were great in the film session, the walk-through and the start of the game set the tone with the unselfishness and how we guarded.’’
Nothing is a gimme in this league, especially on the second night of a back-to-back. Remember, the Knicks collapsed, against the NBA’s worst team, in the fourth quarter at Minnesota on Wednesday.
After a terrible night against Dallas on Friday, Julius Randle found his star and rattled in 20 of the 41 points in the first quarter. Randle and Bullock each drained four 3-pointers in the 12-minute masterpiece.
Judging by the way the Pistons didn’t seem to care, you can figure Detroit (14-35) will give Minnesota (12-38) a run for its money for the NBA’s worst record. The Pistons are on The Tank Train. Gonzaga hero Jalen Suggs may trade his Bulldogs uniform for that of the Pistons. Poor guy. At least the Knicks’ have the Pistons’ second-round pick, which could be No. 31 overall.
The Knicks didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline and haven’t done anything on the buyout market, other than inking Pelle, to be third-string center behind Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson.
Whether they regret not making a harder charge at backcourt men Victor Oladipo, Norman Powell, Lonzo Ball or small forward Evan Fournier will depend on how big a factor point guard Derrick Rose, obtained in a trade on Super Bowl Sunday, becomes.
“Every team is fighting for something right now, and the team’s that’s not playing for something, they would [like] to be the team that knocks us out the playoffs,’’ Rose said. “That’s what the NBA is about. No boys allowed.”
They were men in Detroit on Saturday.
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