OG Anunoby delivers in debut as Knicks topple Wolves
The forward finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds in 35 minutes in his Knicks debut, helping New York to a 112-106 matinee victory over the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves Monday afternoon. The Knicks acquired Anunoby in a trade with the Toronto Raptors on Saturday in exchange for RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley
“I felt good,” Anunoby said after the win. “I felt good. Just trying to help the team on both ends. Just talking to guys on defense and them talking to me, helping know where to be, and stuff. Felt good.”
Anunoby, 26, is one of the league’s premier “3-and-D” players, having led the league in steals and making the All-Defensive second team last season while shooting in the high 30s from 3-point range on six attempts per game over the past four seasons.
In this game, he found himself matched up almost exclusively with Anthony Edwards, one of the league’s best wing scorers, while his first shot as a Knick — which he made — was a corner 3-pointer. He went on to finish 7-for-12 from the field, including 3-for-6 from 3, to go along with an assist and a block before fouling out with four minutes to go in Monday’s win.
Making his performance even more impressive was his admission that, after spending New Year’s Eve alone in his hotel room preparing for this game, he was still learning what he needed to do up until tipoff, and even during the game, as his teammates were helping him get up to speed on the fly throughout the contest.
“Even during the game, they were telling me, ‘Go here. Do this.'” Anunoby said with a smile. “Yeah, they were helping me out for sure, a lot of them. And I’m thankful for it.”
It was an overall showing that, at least for a day, demonstrated why the Knicks have been interested in Anunoby’s services going back to last season, and why they deemed it worth giving up Barrett, Quickley and what will be one of the top picks in the second round of this year’s draft (via Detroit) to get him.
“I love OG,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch, who coached Anunoby for half a season in Toronto before taking the Minnesota head-coaching job two years ago, said before the game. “Really enjoyed coaching him. One of the most impactful, versatile defenders in the league. I’ve seen him guard Damian Lillard one night, Joel Embiid the next. Just very, very good on both individual guys.
“Offensively, I always thought that, uh, there was a little bit more in his game. He can really play-make out of the post, he’s pretty good when you get him to turn corners … I’m sure that they’ll be able to tease more of that out here.”
The Knicks, however, are coached by Tom Thibodeau — which means the focus, first and foremost, is on the defensive end. And that is where Anunoby gives New York a completely different dimension, as it has gone from a team trying to make do with undersized wing players to Anunoby, who is 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
“I thought for the first game, impressive,” Thibodeau said. “Just to be ready, and kind of figure it out on the fly. Played smart, played off people well, hustled, moved without the ball, shot good shots, made good plays … very good start.”
It was New York’s defense that flipped the game in the second quarter, as the Knicks — after trailing 32-23 after one — held Minnesota to just 17 points in the second, outscoring the Wolves 38-17 to take a double-digit lead into the halftime break.
Then, when the game got tight in the fourth quarter after Minnesota cut the lead to as little as four, it was Julius Randle — who finished with 39 points and 8 rebounds — who carried the Knicks home.
“He’s a competitor. He makes timely shots, timely plays on the defensive end, and he guards the best player [on the other team],” Randle said of his newest teammate. “It’s not easy to do what he did.”
It is a homecoming of sorts for Achiuwa, who spent three of his years in high school playing in the New York City metropolitan area, and he immediately slotted into New York’s backup center role behind incumbent starter Isaiah Hartenstein. McBride, on the other hand, signed a three-year, $13 million extension Saturday — a deal agreed upon shortly after the Anunoby deal was finalized. The trade created an opening at backup point guard behind Jalen Brunson due to Quickley’s departure for Toronto. McBride logged seven minutes Monday.
“Right here and now? No, not exactly,” McBride said, when asked before the game if he’d anticipated getting an extension now. “It was pretty sudden, but I’m glad we got it done. It just shows their belief in me and my hard work really paid off. They were watching me, and I think I proved it.”
But while McBride has a new contract extension, Anunoby is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Still, the expectation is he will be retained by the Knicks moving forward, and while he said he’s leaving his free agency to be dealt with in the offseason, Anunoby didn’t sound like someone who was planning on leaving New York anytime soon.
“I just take it day by day,” Anunoby said. “I let my agents handle that stuff.
“When the time comes, [we’ll] figure it out. But I’m really excited to be here.”
First appeared on www.espn.com