RJ Barrett shook off some rust with a scintillating fourth quarter in Minnesota as he brought the New York Knicks home in a hard-earned 96-88 win Tuesday night.
Barrett hit his final three shots to overcome a woeful 0 for 7 shooting in the first three quarters. He scored all of his eight points in the final 5:49 to stave off the depleted Timberwolves’ challenge.
“[RJ] made big plays down the stretch for us, and that’s what I like. He didn’t force and then he found a rhythm by the end of the game. I thought he read the game very well down the stretch, and that’s the big thing,” said Tom Thibodeau effusive in his praise.
Barrett said he’s happy to get the opportunity to get back into the game and catch his rhythm down the stretch after his shooting struggles.
Over his last two games, since his return from the health and safety protocols, Barrett has only played an average of 25 minutes. His shot — 7 of 25 from the field and 2 for 12 from downtown — is still shaky most of the time.
“The first two games, I’m just trying to play within the team concepts and find my rhythm again,” Barrett said. “Any time you’re out for 10 days, it’s going to affect you whether you have COVID or not.”
Barrett said he only experienced mild symptoms, and getting tired easily is one of them. But he quickly added he’s feeling better after catching fire in the fourth quarter.
As he continues to work into game shape, rookie wing Quentin Grimes seized the opportunity to prove that his 27-point outburst against Milwaukee before he also had COVID-19 was not a fluke.
Grimes had his third consecutive double-digit scoring in Minnesota. He poured in nine of his 11 points in the second quarter, helping the Knicks build a 17-point lead.
Over his last three games dating back to his breakthrough performance against the Bucks, Grimes averaged 17.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and five triples per game on a staggering 44 percent.
Derrick Rose’s ankle injury has opened up a spot in the second unit, and Grimes walked into it and grabbed it. Grimes had seen his role grow since his return averaging more playing time (28 minutes) over Barrett.
Thibodeau has fallen in love with the rookie’s 3-and-D play that helped solidify their defense in recent games. The defensive-minded coach hinted that Grimes would be a regular fixture in the second unit moving forward.
“I really thought at the start of the season, the bench really played well together. That was a big plus for us,” Thibodeau said. “When you move some of those guys, their chemistry changes. Then you have to find a way with that. You’re getting more and more information [as you do that].”
“So, we know Quentin is a very good player. He provides something that we need — high energy, very good defense, shotmaking, and real toughness.”
Grimes came into the NBA with a reputation as a tough 3-and-D player. But some people thought he was a reach at the 25th pick. But Grimes’s recent play proves the Knicks’ scouting department got it right.
Grimes had been on the Knicks’ radar way before the NBA Draft as one of their new scouts, Adam Tatalovich, had extensive intel on the former Houston standout. Tatalovich unofficially worked for Grimes’ coach at Houston, Kelvin Sampson, last college season before the Knicks scooped him up last February.
It was Sampson who recommended Tatalovich to Knicks GM Scott Perry when the team was looking to beef up their international scouting department.
“When that position came up, I called Scott and said: Look, there’s a young man in Adam Tatalovich. Here’s his story. I couldn’t recommend him highly enough. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s good, and he’s ambitious, and he’s task-oriented. Whatever job or task that you want him to do, I think he’s going to be outstanding,” Sampson told Empire Sports Media before the season began.
Tatalovich first burst into the basketball scene under Michael Jordan and late Kobe Bryant’s trainer Tim Grover after graduating from Indiana University. Before the Knicks, he had stints with the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings as video coordinator and pro personnel scout. He also coached in Australia (NBL) and China (CBA) before returning to his roots in Serbia at the height of the pandemic last year. Just recently, he acquired Serbian citizenship to stay in Eastern Europe. Tatalovich is also involved with the Serbian national basketball program as an assistant coach.
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