The second of a back-to-back, a 12 noon start. It was a recipe for a sloppy NBA game but the Knicks managed to overcome the lethargy to score a 91-84 win over the struggling Orlando Magic at the Garden on Martin Luther King day.
The Knicks found a way after their impressive win just 24 hours earlier in Boston. It was the first back-to-back sweep since 2018 and that includes 40 sets of games on consecutive days. Coach Tom Thibodeau appreciated his team’s grit on the second of a back-to-back. “They showed a lot of toughness, I knew it would be a challenge in terms of back-to-back, early start.”
The game was a “slop-fest” as the Knicks looked tired while Orlando is in the midst of a stretch where they are playing 8 of 9 games on the road. The Knicks shot 36% and 5 of 27 from three, while they missed ten free throws. The Magic shot 34% overall, 12 of 38 from three and made 14 of 16 from the foul line, a number that kept them in the game. Six Knick turnovers was a number that helped them eventually pull this one out.
What was encouraging beside the win was the way R.J. Barrett played, particularly in the fourth quarter. Barrett made some huge plays down the stretch after the Knicks blew a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
The 20-year old finished with a team high 22 points and 10 rebounds total but there were two huge offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter that proved to be critical. Julius Randle had 21 pts and 17 rebounds, while Payton burned his old team for 12 points on 6 of 11 from the floor.
With the score tied at 73, Barrett’s offensive rebound led to an Elfrid Payton driving lay up and a 75-73 lead. The second offensive board came with less than three minutes left. Barrett grabbed Randle’s three point miss and scored on a lay up to put the Knicks up 80-78. Following a steal, Barrett drove to the hoop with an aggressive move and scored to essentially put this one away as the Knicks had an 85-81 advantage.
Barrett has been inconsistent in the early portion of this season. There are games where he looks 20 years old and then there are games, like today, where he justifies his status as the third overall selection of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Barrett’s shooting woes have been well documented, but Thibodeau feels that part of his game is coming. “His [Barrett] attitude’s been great. He’s in a really good place,” Thibs said. “At the beginning of the season people were talking about his shooting but he was doing so many other things for us. He was rebounding the ball, he was making very good rim reads, he was high assists on most nights. I really believe the shooting will come around.”
Thibodeau has a rep for favoring veteran players over his youngsters, but that’s not the case with Barrett. “I think the sky’s the limit,” Thibodeau said. I think he’s learning as most young players do but he can score a bunch of different ways, have the ability to put it on the floor, catch and shoot, play pick and roll, post up, run the floor, when he moves without the ball that what makes him tough to guard.”
The Knicks snapped a five game losing streak with their win in Boston and now it’s two wins in a row to pull to within one game of .500 at 7-8. Despite some of their brutal losses this season, the Knicks have shown resilience. “Having the ability to take a punch and get back up, keep fighting and find a way. That’s a big part of this league, “Thibodeau said.
Knicks have a huge test ahead of them with a four game road trip featuring games against the Warriors, Kings, Trailblazers and Jazz, beginning on Thursday. It’s been a long time and kinda of surreal that the Knicks are anxious for a challenge.
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