NY Post: Elfrid Payton answers challenge as Knicks clip Bulls

From Peter Botte:

he cries have been incessant recently, with fans and media wondering when Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau will alter his starting lineup to insert electrifying rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley in place of Elfrid Payton.

Payton responded with his best game in several weeks Wednesday night in Chicago, helping propel the Knicks to a 107-103 win over the Bulls at United Center.

Payton posted 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes — his highest playing time in seven games — and Quickley added nine points in just 13 minutes. The Knicks improved to 8-2 this year in the 10 games in which Payton has hit at least five field goals.

“I think Elfrid is a pro. I think he has a lot of pride in his game, and more importantly I think he has a lot of pride in the team,” Thibodeau said after the game. “I think the winning component is very important to him. So whatever we ask him to do, he does very unselfishly. He’s always sacrificing for the team, it’s recognized by everyone. We have a 10-man rotation, but everyone’s role is important.”

I think it’s a pretty simple proposition. When Payton is playing well, the Knicks are very hard to beat. We saw this early in the season when the Knicks were beating some really good teams and almost invariably, it was games when Payton had good games (as he had a bunch of good games early). As the stat noted, the Knicks are 1-10 in games when Payton has a bad game and 8-2 when he has a good game.

The problem, of course, is that Payton is not that good, so if your team’s win-loss record is relying on Payton to be good, well…you’re not relying om much. But hey, when it happens, the team certainly looks great.

Even with all of that, of course, the Knicks almost handed the game to the Bulls in the final minutes, with the Bulls essentially saying, “Nah, no thank you” and giving the game back to the Knicks. That was at the end, though, after the Knicks dominated the rest of the game. It reminded me a lot of that Hawks win where the Knicks practically gave that game away at the end, as well.

In an interesting bit, Thibs was asked before the game about whether he saw Mitch as being able to evolve his game like Joakim Noah, and he responded with an intriguing statement, ““Every player is different. Mitch has different strengths. The growth part of Joakim’s game was great. He started off as a defensive player, an energy guy, a guy who ran the floor well. And actually, when Derrick [Rose] got hurt, we ran the offense through him. He was an excellent passer, decision maker, very good with dribble handoffs and I think that’s a part of Mitch’s game that can grow. And so we’ll challenge him in that way.”

You know I loves me some Mitch (and he was great tonight), but I sure as heck don’t see Mitch’s passing as ever being a key part of his game. So that’s an odd response from Thibs. I like, though, that he sounds dedicated to Mitch, so maybe they’ll try to involve Mitch more into the offense going forward.