RJ Barrett had the best game of his young career in a 35-point effort to rescue a once-again drowning late-game Knicks from the Pelicans.

The New Orleans Pelicans (1-6) were the latest meal for the surging New York Knicks (5-1) on Saturday night, as the ‘Bockers won their third straight game and second on the road on All Hallow’s Eve Eve, the second spookiest day of the year (Tax Day being no. 1). They are undefeated on the road through three tries, beating the Pelicans 123-117.

Without All-Stars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, rookie head coach Willie Green’s squad rolled a young team looking to push the pace. However, the Pelicans could not hold their own against the talented Knicks, again bombing from deep early and often. New Orleans was forced to play rookies Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones big minutes, along with one-time TKW draft darling Kira Lewis Jr. and second-year man Naji Marshall—all anchored by veteran center Jonas Valanciunas, who had his second huge game in as many nights with a 27-point double-double.

Before all the RJ Barrett madness, the story of the first half was New Orleans creeping into New York’s lead due to poor ball security by the visitors. The Pelicans, who played on Friday night against the Sacramento Kings, scored 15 fast-break points on seven first-half Knicks turnovers. Despite shooting over 50.0% both overall and from three, at halftime, the lead was a four-point margin for New York.

By the third quarter, Barrett took over the reins of New York’s offense, at one point converting on four consecutive baskets, punctuated by a sweet dish off to Taj Gibson for a bucket. The Knicks could never run away from the feisty Pelicans club, with every double-digit lead built by New York followed in short order by a mini-run by the home team. When Barrett left the game with the second unit in, Lewis Jr. kept NOLA afloat. The Knicks went into the fourth quarter with only a five-point advantage, unable to build on the halftime lead.

In the final frame, the Knicks were fortified by their new starting backcourt and improved outside shooting. Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier combined to shoot 11-for-16 from downtown on Saturday evening, creeping out the Pelicans as the clock struck closer to midnight to mark Halloween and the game clock reached stressfully closer to zero. Barrett had to rescue the team with clutch back-to-back three-point daggers in the fourth quarter, scoring a career-best 35 points on 12-of-18 from the field, 6-for-8 from three.

Keep it up, RJ

RJ Barrett had his first great game against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, scoring 20 points while providing blanket defense on DeMar DeRozan on the veteran swingman’s airball of a game-winner attempt. One key for the third-year wing in 2021–22 is consistency, although that may be difficult with raised talent around him and All-Star Julius Randle.

Barrett was even better against the Pelicans (one of two franchises that passed over him in the 2019 draft), hitting a trey off the bounce straight away and finding Mitchell Robinson for alley-oop dunks and close-range shots in the first half. By the third quarter, Barrett truly awakened, finding room on the floor to slice and dice the Pelicans’ D.

In the final minutes of the close game, Barrett put the team on his back, carrying the Knicks with back-to-back three-pointers to put New Orleans’ close pursuit out of reach. For a tough start to the season in terms of outside shooting, Barrett silenced doubts about his shot from last season with six triples on Saturday. He finished with 35 points, eight rebounds, and a team-high six assists.

Mitch’s Homecoming

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson had the opportunity to play in his hometown (he’s from Florida, went to high school in Louisiana) for the first time since his rookie season on November 16th, 2018, due to his injuries last season and the COVID-shortened 2019–20 campaign.

Robinson’s immediate matchup was tough center Jonas Valanciunas, playing his seventh contest for the Pelicans following two and a half seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies. The hometown kid had an early advantage, nearly posterizing Valanciunas and getting sent to the foul line. However, the Lithuanian proved to be a test for the defensive stud-hopeful, knocking down buckets from midrange and hitting a three from the top of the key after Robinson took off assignment to contest another player’s shot.

Valanciunas led all scorers at halftime with 18 points on seven shots, with little Robinson could do to stop short-range floaters and hook shots, along with a nifty move in the post by the former Grizzly. Valaciunas slowed down in the second half, as it took nearly nine minutes into the fourth quarter for him to score. Nevertheless, despite Valanciunas’ best efforts (and Robinson’s shortcomings), the Pelicans were downed by the Knicks. Robinson totaled eight points and five rebounds in a downer of an effort this early season.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Kira Lewis Jr. had his moments! Excited to see what this once pre-draft fan-favorite does in his career.
  • Please bottle and mass-market produce this game from RJ Barrett—just absolutely everything you want to see from him—step-back jumpers, patience carrying the ball and finding a lane to the hoop, creating off the bounce and finding teammates. He also appears to possess the clutch gene.
  • Shout out to Taj Gibson tonight. Another double-digit scoring effort and a block in lieu of a healthy Nerlens Noel, who appears to be returning imminently.

  • What a weird game for Julius Randle, but I suppose that also describes even the good Randle games. The former Pelican finished with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two turnovers while only taking nine shots. I like to think Randle recognized Barrett had the hot hand, and that’s progress given the late-game meltdowns to the Magic and Bulls.
  • Three-point watch: 19-of-33. The Knicks are legit from deep this year, even though regression means they won’t shoot nearly 60% from three all season.

Up next: the Knicks return home to face the Toronto Raptors to crack open their November slate of games.

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