Just as when the law of averages seemed to have caught up with the New York Knicks, they still found a way to extend the league’s current longest winning streak.
The Knicks entered Tuesday night’s game on a roll with sixth straight wins and the league’s top 3-point defense. But the Charlotte Hornets posed a significant challenge in the first half, hitting 13-of-19 three-pointers.
Then the Knicks tightened up the loose ends on their defense in the second half and rode on RJ Barrett’s explosion to repel the Hornets, 109-97, Tuesday night at The Garden for their seventh straight win.
Tom Thibodeau made the necessary adjustments, and the result was disastrous for the Hornets, who were a measly 3-for-20 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“I thought our defense in the second half was much better. We contained the dribble drive better. We made a better effort. We moved down on the fly with the ball. We challenged shots,” Thibodeau said.
After a torrid stretch that earned him his first NBA Player of the Week award, Julius Randle cooled off as he was the focal point of the Hornets defense. But Randle did plenty of other stuff to impact the game.
Randle set up Barrett for consecutive three-point shots to get going in the third quarter. Barrett, who missed seven in a row in the first half after his first basket, keyed New York’s turnaround.
Barrett took over in the third quarter and outscored the entire Hornets team, 18-16, as the Knicks built a nine-point lead.
The sophomore wing was a perfect 4-of-4 from 3 in that pivotal period and finished with 24 points to pace the Knicks. He had a career-high-tying six threes.
PJ Washington, who smoked the Knicks with 21 points off the bench in the first half, led the Hornets with 26.
With Barrett on fire, the Knicks turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 91-82 lead, which they never relinquished.
“That’s what Julius has done all year. He didn’t score the ball like he usually does, but he made plays for us, and he has great awareness of what’s going on in the game. He gets people going,” Thibodeau said.
RJ, in the second half, got a great rhythm going. He’s been shooting the 3 great for us. He gotta continue to do that. But Julius can beat you a lot in different ways. He can beat you with the pass, with his rebounding, with his post-ups, shooting the 3, going off the dribble.”
After averaging 35.8 points in his last four games, Randle was held down to 16 on 5-for-16 shooting by the Hornets’ defense. But the Knicks’ All-Star forward added 10 rebounds, seven assists, and two steals.
Reggie Bullock, who hit the overtime-sending triple in their previous win, kept it going with 16 points on five triples.
Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson combined for 10 points, 19 rebounds, and four blocks as they split the minutes at center.
Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley each had 17 points off the bench for the Knicks, who moved five games over .500 (32-27) for the first time this season and to solo fifth in the Eastern Conference.
They can knock the Atlanta Hawks (32-26) from their perch and grab solo fourth if they beat them tomorrow in an all-important matchup.
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