This won’t just be Quentin Grimes’ first Christmas Day game as a Knicks starter. It also will be his first chance to go head-to-head against James Harden, who helped him years ago while he was growing up in Houston.
Harden, then with the Rockets, showed an interest in Grimes while he was in high school. Harden helped steer Grimes to the University of Houston after he transferred following his freshman year at Kansas.
“He was one of the reasons I went to Houston,” Grimes recalled on Saturday after Knicks practice.
In the spring of 2019, Grimes was getting evaluated for the NBA draft, but was planning to return to school. He got the chance to work out with some NBA players, and impressed Harden, who got in his ear about attending Houston. Harden and Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson were close from Sampson’s time as an assistant coach with the Rockets from 2011-14.
“You got to get this kid,” Harden told Sampson.
From that point, Sampson made Grimes a priority, eventually landing him. Grimes blossomed into a big star in two years with the Cougars, leading them to the Final Four in 2021, and he was taken 25th overall by the Knicks in the ensuing draft.
Sunday afternoon at the Garden, Grimes will get the chance to defend against Harden as the Knicks host the red-hot 76ers who have won seven straight games. Harden missed the first game between the two teams, a Knicks win in Philadelphia on Nov. 4, due to injury.
“It will be fun. He’s a terrific player. He’s a triple-double [every night],” Grimes said. “You saw what he did Friday night [against the Clippers], 21 assists. So I’m really excited to go up against a guy like that.”
One of the keys to the Knicks’ recent turnaround after a slow start, Grimes returned to the court for the loss to the Bulls on Friday after missing a game with a sprained right ankle. He said he felt fine after logging 36 minutes and scoring eight points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau offered his condolences to the family of Mark Warkentien, a longtime NBA executive who worked for the Knicks during his career and passed away at the age of 69 on Friday. He was the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2008-09 while serving as the general manager of the Nuggets.
“We had a close relationship. He had been with Jerry Tarkanian for a long time at UNLV and Larry Johnson and all those guys,” Thibodeau said. “And so, I got to know him throughout the years. Just a great basketball guy, a good family man. Sad news.”
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