On the backs of both strong defense and sophomore guard RJ Barrett, the Knicks came back to Indiana and took down the Pacers in a highly entertaining win.

The New York Knicks (3-3) kicked off the new year the same way they began their season: by traveling to Indiana for a matchup against the Pacers (4-2). New York began 2021 with a hard-fought victory, flipping the result from the season opener and improving their record to .500 with a score of 106-102.

Neither team took a lead higher than six points until New York rode an 8-0 run early in the second half to go up by double digits. Indiana chipped away at the lead with eight quick points of their own and the game remained close. A tightly contested fourth quarter was put away by a pair of defensive plays from New York: a steal and slam from Julius Randle and a blocked shot from Mitchell Robinson that led to a fast-break bucket.

One major adjustment for the Knicks to make was slowing down Domantas Sabonis, who began his fifth season in the league in spectacular fashion by posting 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 13 rebounds against New York in their season opener. With Julius Randle as the primary defender on Sabonis, the Pacers’ All-Star put up a mere 13 points. He added 13 rebounds and four assists.

Although Sabonis was handled, it allowed Malcolm Brogdon to score a career-high 33 points. The fifth-year point guard lit up New York’s defense, shooting 12-of-18 from the field and hitting seven of his 10 attempts from deep. He recorded seven assists and one turnover and dropped 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting in just the first quarter.

Defensively, the Pacers keyed in on Randle, double-teaming him when he had the ball. The Randle of old would have turned into a flurry of turnovers—he still did commit a couple—but he made plenty of good passes out of the double teams, which resulted in good looks for New York. The tactic, though, forced Randle into a season-low 12 points on a dreadful 5-for-16 shooting.

While Randle struggled to score, the rest of the Knicks picked up the slack. The team shot 50.6% on field goals and 44.4% on triples in the first half. Meanwhile, Indiana shot 40.5% from the floor and 38.0% from beyond the arc.

Mitchell Robinson was a good source of offense from New York. He was active on the boards and got a few put-backs early in the game. He put up a season-high 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting and added nine rebounds, six of which were via the offensive glass.

Elfrid Payton, the other Bayou Boy, scored 19 points, eight rebounds, and five assists on 8-of-16 shooting, including 3-for-4 on free throws. Austin Rivers added 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes off the bench.

Barrett bounces back

After a pair of inefficient shooting nights, R.J. Barrett found a groove. The second-year swingman recorded a team-high 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, and three assists.

He drilled back-to-back triples in the first quarter after missing his previous 21 attempts from deep. Overall, he converted four of his five attempts from deep. He also went 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.

Barrett’s strongest showing this season have both been against the Pacers. He scored 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc in New York’s previous game against Indiana.

Randle slows his roll

Julius Randle, who has led New York in scoring this season and in their previous four games, went scoreless until there were 43 seconds remaining in the first half. He ended the game with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists. Tonight was the first game in which Randle wasn’t the team’s leading scorer since their season opener (when it was again Barrett).

Randle didn’t score very efficiently but he still had a pretty solid performance. He held his own against Sabonis, didn’t force any shots, didn’t commit a turnover in the second half, made timely and accurate passes when he was doubled, and recorded team-highs in rebounds and assists with 11 and eight, respectively.

Quickley Byke

Immanuel Quickley returned to action after missing New York’s previous four contests. The rookie out of Kentucky subbed into the game with two minutes left in the first quarter and got to work right away by assisting Nerlens Noel on a layup. He drew fouls and hit shots while initiating ball movement and hustling on defense. He was subbed into the game late when New York needed free throws to secure the win (though he never took any).

Quickley played 14 minutes and ended his second professional game with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting, two assists, and two turnovers.

The Knicks finish their four-game road trip on Monday in Atlanta.


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