Barrett rediscovers shooting touch in Knicks’ big road win against Pacers

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett
Dec 23, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) dribbles the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) defends in the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Right after bricking eight three-pointers that epitomized one of the New York Knicks‘ worst shooting nights, RJ Barrett went back to the court instead of heading back to their hotel.

Two nights later, the former third overall pick rediscovered his shooting touch, ironically, against the Indiana Pacers, 106-102, as the Knicks reached .500 for the second time this season.

Barrett started the season with 11-15 shooting, including 3-for-3 from deep against the Pacers. Then he missed his next 21 three-point attempts until Saturday against the Pacers again.

‘Magic is in the work’

Tom Thibodeau has always preached, “magic is in the work.”

Barrett and the rest of the Knicks have bought in.

The sophomore wingman scored 25 on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-for-15 from the outside. He added five rebounds and three assists.

He hit his first two three-pointers that set the tone early.

“I just put in the extra work, and the basketball gods have rewarded me,” said Barrett, who noted that he took the same shots he attempted in the past couple of games.

“The whole team was confident in me,” he added.

The Knicks looked a confident bunch two nights after shooting 36 percent overall and 3-of-36 from 3 in a 100-83 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Tampa, Fla.

Randle’s defense

It wasn’t just Barrett who had a redemption game.

Against the Pacers, the Knicks shot 50.6 percent from the field and connected on 12-27 threes.

Julius Randle bucked a slow start as he flirted with another triple-double. He finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and two steals.

His defense against All-Star Domantas Sabonis stood out. Sabonis was limited to 13 points after torching the Knicks with a career-high 32 in their first meeting.

“It was a tough, tough matchup, and I think that took away a lot of energy from [Randle]. A guy like [Sabonis], you can’t guard individually. You have to guard with your whole team. I thought our team gave the appropriate help [defense]. And [Sabonis] put a lot of pressure on us,” Tom Thibodeau said postgame.

“So it’s great to come in here and get a win. This team is playing well as anybody in this league. [Indiana] had a lot of weapons.”

The Pacers, who fell to 4-2, had five players in double figures led by Brogdon’s 33 points, but the Knicks held them to just 40.5 percent shooting to gut out the close win.

“But overall, I thought our defense was good. Our rebounding, our effort — it’s hard to win on the road — it was a good solid win for us. The thing I like the best was we showed improvement from the first game we played out here,” said Thibodeau, who was effusive in his praise.

Inside dominance

Mitchell Robinson anchored the Knicks’ dominant inside game.

Firmly entrenched as the starting center, the 22-year old Robinson had a big game and a key block down the stretch.

Robinson scored 16 points, all inside the paint, on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, with nine rebounds and two blocks.

The Knicks controlled the boards, 51-32, and had a massive 56-26 advantage in points inside the paint.

With the Knicks anxiously holding a slim four-point lead, 100-96, Robinson swatted away Malcolm Brogdon’s three-point attempt in the last 40.8 seconds. Robinson’s critical defensive play led to an Austin Rivers’ layup that sealed the win.

Huge lift off the bench

Thibodeau earlier said that he likes the quality of the team’s depth. It showed tonight.

Rivers, in just his second game, came off the bench with 15 points in 18 minutes. The veteran guard is fitting in seamlessly despite skipping the training camp and missing the Knick’s’ first four games. Rivers teamed up with the returning rookie Immanuel Quickley to stabilize the Knicks’ bench.

Quickley quickly picked up from where he left after missing the last four games with a hip pointer. The former Kentucky guard contributed nine points and two assists in 15 minutes off the bench.

The Knicks’ bench outscored their Pacers’ counterpart, 28-23.

Big help from Elf

Elfrid Payton also had another strong play at the point — 19 points, eight rebounds, and five assists — as he continues to keep the starting spot.

The Knicks were still missing Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Alec Burks, and rookie Obi Toppin.

What’s next?

The Knicks will wrap up their road trip in Atlanta on Monday against the Hawks, who are coming off a 96-91 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Knicks won their last meeting against the Hawks, 136-131 in overtime, in what turned out to be the last game they played last season before the league was shut down due to the pandemic.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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