‘Whatever we ask him to do, he does very unselfishly’

Elfrid Payton goes up for shot against Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen
Elfrid Payton goes up for shot against Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen

After suffering an eight-point loss against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, the Knicks were able to turn things around on Wednesday, starting strong and hanging on for a 107-103 win in Chicago.

One of the biggest reasons for New York’s turnaround on Wednesday was the play of starting point guard Elfrid Payton. The veteran guard played 34 minutes on Wednesday, scoring 20 points on 9-of-19 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and four assists in one of his better outings of the season.

Payton’s performance was a sharp contrast from what he was able to do on Monday, playing just 17 minutes and scoring only five points on five shot attempts.

Much has been made about the Knicks potentially moving rising rookie Immanuel Quickley into the starting lineup in place of Payton, but it was the veteran who collected most of the playing time on Wednesday, as Quickley played just 13 minutes, scoring nine points.

Payton was asked about the competition with Quickley pushing him as a player, to which his response was short and sweet.

“I’m just trying to win, bro,” he said.

But head coach Tom Thibodeau was a bit more loquacious after the game, praising Payton’s play and the professional way that he’s gone about his business.

“I think Elfrid’s a pro. I think he has a lot of pride in his game,” Thibodeau said. “More importantly, I think he has a lot of pride in the team. And 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.

“And again, we have a 10-man rotation, but everyone’s role is important. The work part is equal. Everyone’s role is different. Some guys play more than others. Some guys are just there to be ready when the opportunity comes. And it will come. That’s sort of the nature of this league. And when that opportunity comes, be ready to go in and help the team. So, everyone has to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. So, it might be shots, it might be minutes, it might be starting, it might be coming off the bench. Might not be in the rotation initially. But you need everyone over the course of the season. And everyone’s role is important for the success of the team.”

Quickley has gotten many of the headlines this season, but Payton has quietly been putting up solid numbers, averaging 11.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 28 minutes per game.

And as Thibodeau explained, Payton has done a good job of doing what he’s been asked by the coaching staff. And if a 20-point outing like Wednesday’s comes along when the team needs it, Thibodeau knows the veteran guard can answer the call.

“We need everyone. Elfrid’s strengths are his defense, running the team, being an opportunistic scorer,” Thibodeau said. “So, I thought he was very aggressive. Everyone has confidence in him. Play as hard as you can. Some nights it’s his night. Some nights it’s someone else’s night. And that’s what I love about our team. We have to share in that, and we have to do it together.”

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