Knicks sophomore RJ Barrett had a breakout game in the first matchup of the 2020–21 season, but New York fell to the Pacers with a disappointing second half.
Who cares about playing on Christmas when you can playing on Festivus. The New York Knicks (0-1) opened their season with a 121-107 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The first quarter validated much of what the preseason taught us. R.J. Barrett is ready to take a step forward, starting a perfect 4-4 including impressive back-to-back three-pointers to get an early 10 points. Julius Randle continued to dribble with his head up and had three assists to show for it. Immanuel Quickley proved instantly why he should be atop the point guard rotation, helping close the deficit to 35-33 after one.
The high scoring did not taper off. The Knicks finished the half with a 66-61 lead, led by a literally perfect half for Barrett—20 points, on 8-8 shooting (3-3 from three)—and Alec Burks who had 19 points off the bench. The defense was another story; Domantas Sabonis continued to be an unsolvable problem and Malcolm Brogdon had a strong showing to keep the game tight.
Things were not as peachy in a Pacer-dominated third quarter. Victor Oladipo had a strong quarter and without Quickley (hip pointer) or Randle (foul trouble), the energy and cohesion that helped build the first-half lead were not there.
Lack of cohesion trickled down to lack of shots falling and then the foundation of a good game collapsed. The Pacers’ defense strengthened simultaneously as the Knicks went cold, which helped the Pacers balloon their lead to double digits with seven minutes left and effectively put this game away.
The Knicks went ice cold in both shooting and energy as the Pacers locked down on defense. Barrett was fantastic but the Knicks have a lot of work ahead of them.
RJ Barrett’s Arrival
Rowan Barrett Jr. has arrived.
It is hard not to overreact to R.J. Barrett’s opening game of the season. Barrett got started in fashion, hit his first nine attempts and scored 20 first-half points.
— NBA (@NBA) December 24, 2020
The second half was a grind for Barrett as the offense lost its cohesion, resulting in just six points for the rest of the way. Still, Barrett flashed a newfound comfort to his game. There were not many forced shots from him tonight if at all as he finished with a team-high 26 points.
The one thing the Knicks need right now is a beacon player, a player that attracts other players would want to team up with. The three-point shooting was promising. The right-hand finishes and ability to absorb contact made it hard not to dream of what Barrett can look like with some help.
Barrett knew from the start he was now the top dog on offense and stepped up to the plate. I know moral victories don’t exist in the pros, but Barrett looking good made this loss much more bearable.
The minute Immanuel Quickley checked into the game the whole mood changed. Quickley once again served as a breath of fresh air at point guard, adding value by simply doing things. Unlike the other options at point guard, Quickley forces the defense to guard him as he crosses the halfcourt. The self-creation only makes opponents more anxious, manifested in Quickley drawing a foul on a three-point attempt to end the first quarter.
Sadly Quick’s night was cut short due to a hip pointer. Without Quickley the energy felt off, and I’m not sure what it says about a team that is already dependent on a rookie who just appeared in his fourth game for the team but that appears to be the case with Quickley.
When he heals from that injury he should be welcomed to a starting role. Thibodeau has to see that Quickley provides the highest upside.
This is More Like It
Maybe Julius Randle has some point-forward to his game after all.
Randle was severely miscast as a top option, that is not shocking news. What is a shocking development is the sudden watchability of Randle’s game. Randle dribbled with his head up, cut down on the blunders, and was not a disaster on the floor, in fact, he was quite good.
Randle had a surprising eight assists at the break to go along with seven points and five rebounds. Ironically enough Randle leaving the game early in the second half proved to be the momentum swing for the Pacers as the Knicks fell apart on offense and defense.
The change in Randle’s approach to the game is clear as day and the even distribution of stats reflects that. Maybe Thibodeau and Kenny Payne fixed a problem that many of us thought was insolvable.
TKW Highlight of the Night
R.J. Barrett was one of the few bright spots tonight and plays like this were a reason for that. The overall comfort level in his offensive game thus far makes it much easier for fans to feel comfortable about the team’s future.
RJ gets the stop and goes COAST TO COAST. He’s up to 17 points on 7-7 FG pic.twitter.com/FBR4JAMNPu
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 24, 2020
Airing of Grievances
In the spirit of Festivus, we must cleanse ourselves by airing our grievances.
- Elfrid Payton brings absolutely nothing to the table. Every minute he spends on the floor is wasted.
- The second foul call on Mitch in the first quarter was a good block. Missed foul calls are whatever, they happen all the time. The frustration is the refs not acknowledging Mitch’s reputation as a shot blocker; if it’s close would you not give Mitch the benefit of the doubt that he blocked it? Wake up, officials.
- The Knicks still have no answer for Domantas Sabonis. In addition to racking up fouls on Mitch and Nerlens Noel, Sabonis did whatever he damn well pleased.
- Obi Toppin’s above-the-break three-point attempts hurt my heart. His jumper looks much smoother from the corner and stays in the camera frame the whole time.
- The Knicks were pretty sloppy with the ball, totaling 16 turnovers. No reliable point-guard play does that.
- What the hell happened in the second half? The energy, defense, and offense all went out the window. It felt like everything bad from last season returned for 24 minutes.
- No one in a Knick uniform can defend Sabonis. Sabonis finished with a game-high 32 points.
The Knicks are back in action Saturday night as they welcome the Philadelphia 76ers to the Garden for the home opener.