Starting center Mitchell Robinson is out following hand surgery, so it was hardly ideal for the Knicks when Taj Gibson limped to the locker room during the first half Saturday night.
Nerlens Noel remained in the game after Gibson’s departure, despite having three fouls and he logged a season-high 41 minutes as the Knicks pulled out a 110-107 win over the Pacers at the Garden.
“We obviously needed it, needed the size, needed the rim protection,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Next man up. We’ve got more than enough with the players that we have. I know [the front office] will look into players that are available. That’s their area. I’m just focused on the guys we have. We’ll figure out a way.”
Late in the second quarter, Thibodeau subbed out Noel and employed a small-ball lineup with Julius Randle at center and Kevin Knox, who recently had been benched, briefly moving back into the rotation. Rookie forward Obi Toppin also participated in such an alignment with Randle, but he played just six minutes.
Starting point guard Elfrid Payton also missed a second straight game with a strained right hamstring.
Payton remains day-to-day and is “making some progress,” Thibodeau added, but he’s “not quite ready.” He sat out 17 games bridging October and December last season with a hamstring injury.
“Injuries are part of the game. It’s unfortunate. You’ve got to trust your medical people, trust the player,” Thibodeau said. “When he says he’s ready to go, he’ll go. I have great confidence in him, I trust him. You want to be smart.”
The Knicks went with the same lineup they used in Thursday’s win over the Kings, meaning Derrick Rose got the start. Thibodeau also stuck with Frank Ntilikina in the rotation after the former lottery pick made his first appearance since Dec. 29 against the Kings.
Rose finished with 17 points, 11 assists and four steals, including a combined defensive turnover on Indiana’s final possession. Ntilikina knocked down two key free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining to finish with five points in 11 minutes.