At the heart of the Knicks’ 138-134 double-overtime victory at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday was Julius Randle and Evan Fournier, who combined for 67 points on 25-of-52 shooting from the field. But don’t overlook the impact of RJ Barrett.
Randle certainly isn’t.
That much was evident in the second half, when Barrett, the third-year forward whom New York selected third overall in 2019, threw down a one-handed slam. The points were Barrett’s first of the game and came halfway through the third quarter. MSG had been waiting for them.
Accordingly, Randle waited on that side of the court to congratulate his teammate. The All-Star gave Barrett a playful bump, firing up the MSG crowd even more.
Twitter Reacts to Barrett’s Defensive Gem
Barrett finished with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting. But it was his defense that stood out most.
While Barrett was defending, Celtics players attempted 27 shots, according to NBA.com (via @KnicksNania on Twitter). They made only five of those shots, or 18.5 percent. Barrett also contested 12 3-point shots during an elite defensive effort.
Barrett was the primary defender on Boston’s Jayson Tatum throughout the game. The Celtics star managed just 7-for-30 shooting from the field, including a 2-for-15 clip from 3-point range.
On Twitter, fans and analysts took note of Barrett’s defensive performance.
Knicks Counting on Barrett’s Defense
A year ago, the Knicks finished fourth in defensive efficiency last season and led the league in opponent field-goal percentage and three-point percentage.
A lot of that had to do with Reggie Bullock, who is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Bullock was the team’s primary wing defender in 2020-21.
“We want him to take on the challenge of being a complete player and I think he’s taking a lot of pride in it,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, per Begley. “I think his defense is a lot better than it was a year ago, I can tell you that. He’s done a really good job; he can guard multiple positions, he can guard two, three, and four. He can guard some point guards; he’s shown a lot.”
For his part, Derrick Rose thinks Barrett is up to the challenge, pointing to the confidence the 21-year-old has as a defender.
“Just confidence. His confidence, and taking the challenge on the defensive end, where we don’t have [Bullock] down anymore,’’ Rose said, per Newsday. “He has to take the matchup every night. It reminds me of old school where he can’t run from any matchup. He’s got to take the matchup. Not only that but produce on the other end.
“If anything, it’s going to make him a better player, and he’s going to take that challenge. He has goals — crazy goals — and it’s great to see that in a young player, be that confident about his game.”