Knicks’ small-ball lineup turned the tide in opening night win over Celtics

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Obi Toppin throwing down a dunk, back to camera, white uniform, season opener

Obi Toppin throwing down a dunk, back to camera, white uniform, season opener

Evan Fournier and Julius Randle helped carry the Knicks in their double-OT win over Boston on Wednesday.

Fournier and Randle combined for 67 points on nearly 50 percent shooting; they each hit key shots late in the Knicks’ season opener.

But Randle and Fournier don’t have a chance to hit those shots if the Knicks don’t go with a small lineup early in the second half. The lineup – featuring Randle at center and Obi Toppin at power forward – changed the game against Boston.

New York outscored the Celtics by 13 with Toppin and Randle on the court together. RJ Barrett had 14 points while playing with the smaller lineup.

“It got us going, got us in the open floor,” Tom Thibodeau said after the win. The small-ball lineup outscored Boston by 15 points over an eight-minute span of the third. They forced a few turnovers and took advantage of Toppin’s skill in transition.

The second-year forward had two strong finishes in transition. When he wasn’t attacking the rim, he was forcing the Celtics to scramble by simply running the floor.

“If we get a rebound, I’m taking off,” Toppin said.

The Knicks probably went with a smaller lineup on Wednesday due to injury. Nerlens Noel (knee) and Taj Gibson (personal) were out of the lineup. So it made sense to try a lineup that featured Randle and Toppin on the front line.

Given how well it worked, you wonder if Thibodeau will go to it even when his centers are healthy.

It clearly helps Toppin, who excels in transition.

The Garden crowd chanted “Obi, Obi” a few times in the second half following Toppin dunks.

The chant was a result of the daily work Toppin put in over the summer; he and Immanuel Quickley would train almost daily at the Knick practice facility.

If you listened to Toppin enough over the summer, you may not have been surprised by his play on Wednesday. Toppin said again and again in the offseason that he was motivated to play much better this season than he did as a rookie.

If Wednesday night was any indication, Toppin should be able to reach that goal.



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