The change at point guard was one of the few things that went right Friday night for the Knicks.
Derrick Rose made his first postseason start since 2015 — replacing Elfrid Payton — and scored a team-high 30 points in the Knicks’ 105-94 loss to the Hawks in Game 3 in Atlanta.
Rose, who said he was informed of the switch at Friday’s morning walk-through, became the first Knicks guard to score 30 or more points in a playoff game since Stephon Marbury in 2004.
“The thing is he’s been playing basically starters’ minutes for a while. The big thing was trying to get off on a good start, especially on the road,” Tom Thibodeau said in explaining the long-debated switch. “But then we had a problem in the second quarter. So we have to take a look at that.”
Rose and Taj Gibson, Thibodeau’s other longtime trusted lieutenant with both Chicago and Minnesota, also moved into the starting lineup after the veteran duo opened the second half and helped lead the Knicks back from a 13-point halftime deficit two nights earlier in their series-evening Game 2 victory at the Garden,
Thibodeau went all in and finally benched Payton, his starting point guard, if in name only for several weeks.
Payton had started each of the previous 65 games in which he had appeared this season, including the first two games of the series, but “starter” never has been a sillier designation after he played just eight minutes and five minutes, respectively, in the first two games of the series, and not at all in Game 3.
During the game, Payton’s mother, Danielle, posted on her Twitter account (@DannieP19) a retweet of the Knicks’ official starting lineup tweet with the reply, “How that worked out for you! #ProudMama”
Barely an hour before the lineup changes were revealed, just ahead of Friday’s tipoff, Thibodeau had played coy with the media, saying he was “still undecided” and still “thinking things over” based on “what gives us our best chance to win.”
Rose finished 13-for-21 from the floor with five assists, making nearly as many shots as Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and the rest of his bricklaying teammates combined (16-for-60).
Rose, the 32-year-old former NBA MVP, had scored a team-high 26 points, including two key 3-pointers in the second-half rally in Game 2.
The Brooklyn-bred Gibson has been splitting time with starter Nerlens Noel at center since Mitchell Robinson underwent foot surgery in March in his fourth game after also missing time following hand surgery.
Noel was hobbled by an ankle injury in the series opener, and he finished with only two points, five rebounds and zero blocked shots in 17 minutes in Game 2. But he gutted out Friday’s game and got to the free-throw line 12 times, making 10 to finish with 12 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
“I thought we started the game good. Doesn’t matter whoever we have on the court, that’s who it is,” Barrett said. “We got to go with that and trust each other and execute.”
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