Noel Gibson. Taj Nerlens.
However you want to combine them, this Knicks defensive center tandem is rolling along gloriously with Mitchell Robinson expected out for the season after breaking his foot last month.
The combined numbers of Nerlens Noel and his backup Taj Gibson were outstanding — 18 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks in a 122-112 overtime win over the Pelicans at the Garden on Sunday. Combined Noel-Gibson shot 8 of 10.
Things looked dire when Noel went to the locker room clutching his right wrist after taking a tumble in the first half, but he came back and delivered another sensational block on Brandon Ingram in overtime.
In Dallas on Friday, Noel electrified the team’s bench with a block at the rim on a dunk attempt by Dorian Finney-Smith.
The Knicks are looking shrewder and shrewder after electing not to blow center Andre Drummond out of the water with a contract offer on the buyout market.
“It’s amazing,’’ Julius Randle said. “Those guys cover so much for us on the defensive end, blocking shots, being in the right position. They anchor our defense, honestly. They make my job easier, our guards’ job easier. It’s just amazing to have those two guys behind you. If you make mistakes, they’re going to cover for you.’’Taj Gibson is excelling for the Knicks.NBAE via Getty Images
Gibson recorded a season-high 14 rebounds against the Pelicans. He was signed as insurance at center early in the season and that insurance policy has paid off.
Sources say coach Tom Thibodeau was behind the passing on Drummond and, as we all know, the major reason the Knicks brought back Gibson, who played for him in Chicago and Minnesota.
It was a mixed-bag day for RJ Barrett, who fouled out with 4:07 left in regulation after he dragged down his Duke buddy Zion Williamson going for an offensive rebound. Barrett, who had a 10-point first quarter, tapered off and finished with 18 and also committed six turnovers.
There was a rare Kevin Knox sighting in non-garbage time. With swingman Alec Burks expected to be out 10 days because of COVID-19 protocols, Knox played six minutes, going 1 of 3 but was a plus-14. Knox hit a midrange jumper, but missed two 3-pointers. Knox’s role could grow with Obi Toppin regressing and Burks’ absence looming. Thibodeau declined comment on whether Burks is quarantining in Dallas.
Toppin’s rookie season isn’t getting any better — scoreless in six minutes, missing his lone shot.
Knicks face Charlotte on Tuesday to continue their six-game homestand.