Defense was the name of the game for the Knicks once again, as their tenacity on that end allowed them to take home the win over the Cavs in a decisive fashion.

The New York Knicks (9-11) trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers (9-10) on Friday night to return to their winning ways. New York allowed just 81 points across 48 minutes, the second-fewest points this team has given up this season. The Cavaliers were mired by dreadful shooting—they knocked down just 34.5% of their field goals and 30.8% of their three-pointers. It was another characteristically stupendous defensive showing for this Tom Thibodeau–led iteration of the Knicks. 

From a scoring standpoint, the lone bright spot for Cleveland was the play of Darius Garland, who notched 24 points on efficient 9-for-17 shooting. Only two other Cavs reached double-figures in points (Jarrett Allen, Collin Sexton) in a forgettable showing for the team thanks to stifling activity from New York.

For the Knicks, the neophyte Immanuel Quickley led the way in the points department, scoring 25 in as many minutes played. Quickley outscored starting point guard Elfrid Payton, 25-2. Not to mention Quickley saw the court for more time than Payton did, albeit by only two minutes. Is this a harbinger of a passing of the torch between Knicks floor generals?

Mitchell Robinson falling into old habits

Robinson is deserving of praise for his improvement in defending without fouling this season. Just earlier this week, I discussed in this space how Robinson had solidified his place as New York’s starting center due in large part to his new-and-improved defensive headiness. It seems like I jinxed him in this one, unfortunately, because foul trouble plagued the third-year big throughout. 

The physicality and brute strength of Andre Drummond proved too much for Robinson. It appeared as if Cleveland’s strategy was to have Drummond attack Robinson early, as he picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and three before halftime. As a result, Nerlens Noel saw extended playing time, and while he only notched four points, he was superb in filling Robinson’s shoes as a rim protector. At times, the Knicks have hemorrhaged points without Robinson defending the goal, particularly when the second unit is on the floor. But not this time around. The Cavaliers missed a significant number of point-blank looks, and for this, New York should thank Noel.

There’s no reason for concern with Robinson’s fouling. He had one game of over-fouling in a season where’s he showcased tremendous growth in this area. Nobody’s perfect, and there will be nights when Robinson finds himself glued to the bench with fouls. What matters is that Robinson makes sure these types of games aren’t common occurrences, and based on his overall performance in 2020–21, they won’t be.

R.J. Barrett was a scoring maestro

Barrett has ascended into an up-and-coming star in his sophomore season. Tonight ranked among the best scoring displays of his career—he notched 24 points in 40 minutes and showcased impressive scoring chops from both inside and out. He pushed the rock in transition all game long, which resulted in effective dribble-penetration and silky-smooth finishes at the rim. Two of his five three-point attempts fell through, adding further fuel to the fire that Barrett is a capable long-range threat nowadays. Barrett even bullied Cleveland’s guards in the post for a few scores—Sexton and Garland are both shorter than him by a few inches. 

Nights like these are what has New York fans thrilled for this kid’s future. Heading into year two, Knicks faithful longed to witness Barrett develop more of a multidimensional offensive toolbox, and the youngster has done just that. No longer is he a liability from the perimeter. A confident shooter, Barrett’s days of unconfident, ugly misses are by all indications a thing of the past.

Barrett is the head of the snake in the Big Apple, regardless of Randle’s brilliance in the here and now. While he might be New York’s second-best player behind Randle, he’s the team’s clear-cut building block. If the Knicks are to break their years-long playoff drought and string together victories, they’ll need many more showings like this one from Barrett.


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