The New York Knicks lost the opening game of their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks, 107-105. But even a postseason loss has its silver linings.
For example, neither of the team’s rookies shied from the moment, combining for 15 points and four assists.
And elsewhere, sixth man Alec Burks scored a playoff career-high 27 points, on nine-of-13 shooting.
His strong play garnered praise from a number of faces around the league, including the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise face in Luka Doncic, and Golden State Warriors’ wing Damion Lee:
Burks is the first player to score 25 or more off the bench in a playoff game since Latrell Sprewell in 1999.
Burks Leading On and Off the Floor
Alec Burks was not only their (almost) hero in Game One on Sunday, but he’s leading off the court, too.
As one of few players on this roster with actual playoff experience, the Knicks’ sixth man shared some of the insight (via the New York Post) and wisdom he shared with the team, especially their two rookies:
They fought hard. I told them you can’t win or lose a series in one game. It goes game by game. Just play hard. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, you’ve been playing this game your whole life. Just keep going.
With both Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin supplying positive rotation minutes, there’s an argument that New York is among the top of the NBA in regards to roster depth.
As Burks said on Sunday, it’s one of their greater strengths:
I think the strength of our team is the depth. We have a lot of players from top to bottom that can produce at any time, one to 15. I’m proud of them and I see it every day we’re definitely a deep team.
They certainly are on nights where Burks is able to put up these kinds of numbers.
Including Sunday’s loss to the Hawks, the Knicks now 7-5 this season when he scores 20 or more points.
But his latest outburst may prove the answer to New York’s biggest problem.
A New Starting Five?
Head coach Tom Thibodeau, amidst cries from the fans and analytics alike for Elfrid Payton to be removed from the starting lineup, has not swayed on his position surrounding the point guard.
Up until now.
At least, that’s how fans and reporters are choosing to interpret his latest comments.
The New York Knicks head coach was asked yet again about Payton after he played the point guard just eight minutes in their Game One loss; two brief stints to start both the first and second halves.
For the first time, fans heard a different, less committed rebuttal (via the New York Post) from Thibodeau:
Regards to Elfrid, we always put the best players out there that will help us win the game. So some guys are a bit better than others in situations, some guys may be going well. Whoever is going well, we have confidence in everyone on the roster.
He danced around it, but in a way, the Knicks head coach set planted the seed that could preempt a lineup shift.
And if Thibodeau is looking up and down this New York roster in search of a Payton replacement, it’s likely that no one has a stronger case than Burks.
Not only has he served as the de facto point guard and ball-handler at times this season, but he’s also previously started a three-game stretch, and two other separate games previously this year.
In those games, the Knicks went 3-2, and Burks averaged 15.2 points per game.
Removing Burks from the second unit rotation makes for the least damaging when you consider the chemistry that Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, and Taj Gibson have all developed in recent months.
It’s the right call to make, removing Elfrid Payton from the New York Knicks starting lineup, and there’s little doubt that Alec Burks is ready to answer it.
But is Tom Thibodeau prepared to make it?