The New York Knicks earned an impressive win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday evening, 109-90. Thanks to stellar defense, New York broke the .500 mark, taking control of fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Julius Randle once again had a fantastic outing, posting 24 points and eight rebounds. He also contributed six assists and connected on 50% of his three-pointers.

Acquisition Derrick Rose has once again proven to be a focal point for the team as a starter, putting up 14 points and five assists, but also contributing significantly on the defensive side of the ball. Youngsters RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley combined for 33 points, but Quickley’s inability to accrue any assists was a tad disappointing. Nonetheless, over 16 minutes, he provided a nice offensive spark.

The most underrated player on any given day and especially in this defensive domination of the Pistons, is reserve center Nerlens Noel.

Noel was fantastic in the contest, recording 11 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks, also contributing eight points.

“If you don’t know, you’re going to find out,’’ Noel said regarding rim penetrators attempting to drive the lane. “I’m protecting the rim by any means. It’s a great aspect to my game I try to play at a high level. Just do enough to change the game. Just come in and find out.’’’

Head coach Tom Thibodeau loves defensive players that play aggressively, and Noel is exactly that. He meets attackers at the point of execution, and blocks shots efficiently. Normally, the Knicks would feature Mitchell Robinson in that role, but Nerlens has gradually taking steps forward and is playing at a high-level. As long as his knees can hold up, Noel could see himself starting more minutes even when Robinson returns.

“I definitely don’t want anyone hurt on this team,’’ Noel said. “But I’ve taken that spot and made a focal point to man this team and be the anchor on the defensive end and do the small little things to help us win. I think I’ve been at a high level.’’

Healthy competition brings the best out in players, so Robinson will have to fight for his job back once he returns from a fractured hand injury. Noel, on the other hand, is averaging 10.3 blocks and 1.0 steals over the last 10 games, but a smaller sample size has offered five steals in four games.

This article first appeared on Empire Sports Media and was syndicated with permission.

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