This won’t just be Quentin Grimes’ first Christmas Day game as a Knicks starter. It will also be his first chance to face James Harden, who helped him years ago when he was growing up in Houston.
Harden, then with the Rockets, showed an interest in Grimes while in high school. Harden helped steer Grimes to the University of Houston after transferring after his freshman year at Kansas.
“He was one of the reasons I went to Houston,” Grimes recalled Saturday after practice for the Knicks.
In the spring of 2019, Grimes was being evaluated for the NBA Draft, but planned to return to school. He had the chance to practice with NBA players and impressed Harden, who told him about his participation in Houston. Harden and Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson was close to Sampson’s time as the Rockets’ assistant coach from 2011 to 2014.
“You gotta have this kid,” Harden told Sampson.
From then on, Sampson made Grimes a priority, eventually landing him. Grimes became 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 a chance to defend against Harden as the Knicks host the scorching 76ers who have won seven straight games. Harden missed the first game between the two teams, a Knicks victory in Philadelphia on November 4, due to injury.
“It’s going to be fun. He’s a great player. He’s a triple-double [every night]“said Grimes. “You saw what he did on Friday night [against the Clippers], 21 assists. So I’m really excited to face a guy like that.
One of the keys to the Knicks’ recent turnaround from a slow start, Grimes returned to the field for the loss to the Bulls on Friday after missing a game with a sprained right ankle. He said he felt good after recording 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 died Friday at the age of 69 . He was the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2008-09 while serving as the Nuggets’ general manager.
“We had a close relationship. He was 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 over the years. Just a great basketball player, good family man. Bad news.”