On paper, the Pelicans felt like a team that could give the Knicks some fits but they are again without Zion Williamson. Not only do they have good wings in Brandon Ingram, Josh Richardson, Trey Murphy, and Herb Jones, but they’re good at turning strong defensive possessions into great offensive looks and a point guard in CJ McCollum who can attack Jalen Brunson and break into the middle of New York’s defense. After a solid win against the Wizards the night before, it wouldn’t have shocked me to see the Pelicans take advantage of the tried Knicks, it just never happened.
New York jumped on top of the Pelicans right away and never let up. The team’s sixth wire-to-wire victory of the season started with New Orleans off the mark for much of the first quarter. Midway through the first half, New Orleans was shooting just 40 percent from the floor and made just one of its first 13 attempts from the outside. On the Knicks side, Julius Randle kept up the positive vibes from last night’s game against the Wizards with 13 points in the first quarter. This time, Randle knocked down four three-point attempts, pulling the Pelican defense out and forcing them to double him at times. That double allowed Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, and Immanuel Quickley to take advantage of a bent defense. New York’s hot start, combined with New Orleans’ cold streak resulted in a near-20-point lead heading into the second.
In the second quarter, New Orleans was sinking further in the mud but not for lack of trying; Josh Richardson had a few good looks from the outside while CJ McCollum created. New York, however, kept the pressure on, Randle dominated the first, while Barrett and Brunson got active in the second. Brunson hit a few outside shots, allowing his drives and pick-and-roll attacks to have a bit more gravity attached to them as the quarter went on. As for Barrett, the former Duke Blue Devil saw some open lanes and got aggressive in attacking the paint – both were successful in carrying the Knicks’ offense. Alongside New York’s stars working, the outside shot made an appearance.
Last night’s outside shooting performance, on the surface, looked good for the Knicks: 12-19, which was 41.4% from three. However, the Knicks saw Randle make seven of the 12 made threes. Against New Orleans, the shooting went back to normal, with several contributors. New York shot 50% from three in the first half and 39.6% on 48 attempts for the game. Randle’s first-half success aside, his outside looks allowed the likes of Brunson, Barrett, and Quickley to all get active from three, and with New Orleans trading twos for threes, the Knicks were not only able to maintain their lead, but add to it and push the Pelicans further into the hole.
The second half was, to put it lightly, cardio for the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau emptied the bench a little bit earlier than normal (though he did bring Randle and the starters back), with guys like Quickley and Josh Hart getting a healthy chunk of minutes. Hart did his normal hustle work, but also attached 15 points with it as well. Overall, a solid win for the Knicks, who seem to be on the upswing of things. There were moments in the second half, like Derrick Rose making an appearance, but outside of that, both teams understood the assignment – the game is over, get some shots up, and empty the bench so we don’t lose any rotation players to injury.
- Julius Randle was excellent again. Even though he didn’t have another 40-point night, Randle set the tone early for the Knicks as the rest of the offense caught up. The shot selection always waxes and wanes, but Randle knocked down some big threes early, critical for New York to extend their lead. The shots were wonky in the second quarter as he cooled off, but Randle made some excellent passes to get others going and tried on defense. Another solid performance for Randle, who just might get some love as an All-NBA third-team selection if the Knicks can snag that fifth seed.
- I’m critical of RJ Barrett when he plays poorly, so I have to show love when he plays well. I loved Barrett’s performance tonight, largely because he got aggressive offensively and that removed some of the poor possessions in his game. Barrett’s 25 points tonight came in the form of Barrett being methodical and making quick decisions. As evidenced by his seven assists, too, Barrett just works better when he doesn’t go with the intention of jab-stepping at the top of the key or crossing someone over on the perimeter. Quick decisions led to Barrett having a great game and we should see more of it.
- That quartet of Barrett, Grimes, Hart, and Quickley is so instrumental for Thibodeau’s rotation and tonight was a good reason why. Grimes had a quiet game (22 minutes, by the way) but knocked down three three-pointers and played solid defense. Hart hustled and provided energy for the second unit and flew around the floor with reckless abandon. He needs to launch more threes, but another solid performance, nonetheless. Quickley was solid again, not only offering that backup point guard who can come in and offer another changeup offensively, but the defense was crisp off-ball and seven rebounds showed his flexibility. When those four can come in and be interchangeable, the Knicks are tough to beat.
The New York Knicks look to make it five straight wins on Monday, February 27th when they host the Boston Celtics (43-17) at Madison Square Garden. The last time these two teams played, January 26th, the Knicks came away with a 120-117 victory in overtime. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.