So here’s the bad news first for the Knicks, who won again on the road Sunday: they’ve already used up all their gimme games against the sad-sack Pistons.
For a 12th consecutive time since 2019 — and a fourth time this season — the Knicks handled their business against the resident bottom dweller of the Eastern Conference, getting a season-high 42 points and 15 rebounds from Julius Randle to breeze in Detroit, 117-104.
The surging Knicks (25-19) are six games over-.500 for the first time this season, with winnable home games on the horizon against the Raptors and Wizards. The Pistons (12-35) are young and wasting away another year with an eye toward the draft lottery. Their next game is in Paris on Thursday, and at least the Pistons get some good crepes out of this season.
In the Motor City on Sunday afternoon, Randle feasted on their frontcourt during his landmark night. He became the first Knick to record at least 40 points and 15 rebounds since Patrick Ewing in 1996. In the process, he passed Bernard King for 25th on the Knicks all-time scoring list and sits 58 points below No. 24 Mark Jackson.
Coach Tom Thibodeau lauded his power forward’s efforts on defense and on the glass.
“The rebounding is just huge. He got every big rebound down the stretch,” Thibodeau said. “He had some tough covers. He’s all over the place. He’s on the perimeter guarding guards and everything else. I thought he was terrific.”
The Knicks took control early with a 20-point lead in the first half, then closed the fourth quarter strong while riding Randle. Jalen Brunson added 27 points in 42 minutes. Immanuel Quickley had 17 points in 34 minutes off the bench.
Detroit cut the deficit to 7 with five minutes remaining, but the Knicks responded with a 10-4 run for the dagger. Without injured center Jalen Duren, the Pistons utilized small lineups and the Knicks took advantage. It helped that Randle capably guarded wings on the perimeter, meaning the Knicks weren’t burned by Detroit’s speed.
They outrebounded the Pistons, 52-38.
“We made it a power game.” Thibodeau said. “They went small so we rebounded the ball, we got to the line. We did the things we wanted to do to control the game.”
The Knicks, who own the second-best road record in the NBA, have beaten the Pistons by an average of 19 points. Their 12-game winning streak is the longest against a single franchise since beating the Celtics 21 consecutive times in the 1990s.
Sunday was an opportunity to analyze the summer trades between the two franchises, the moves that set up Brunson’s arrival in New York and reaffirmed Detroit as a team mudstuck in a rebuild. It’s still way too early for conclusions, but the early returns are favorable toward the Knicks. Brunson has been worthy of the commitment and contract, while two of the three players handed to Detroit — Kemba Walker and Nerlens Noel — remain negative assets.
More importantly, the first-round pick the Knicks traded to the Pistons in the convoluted draft-day deals turned into Duren, who is playing well but missed his fifth straight game Sunday with ankle soreness. In the bigger picture, Knicks president Leon Rose doesn’t deserve much credit for the maneuvering because he simply used draft picks to unload ill-conceived contracts signed in the 2021 offseason. But the idea of targeting Brunson has worked out well.
And on the court, the Knicks own the Pistons.