After getting a lot of heat for his poor showing, RJ Barrett bounced back with the best game of his young playoff career in Game 3.
Barrett scored 19 points, 14 in the first half, with eight rebounds and three assists as one of the Knicks players in double figures in their massive 99-79 win on Friday night at home.
New York coach Tom Thibodeau was pleased with Barrett’s play despite his poor shooting in the series opener. And he was giddy about Barrett’s aggressiveness on offense in Game 3.
“The big thing is, like his floor game in Game 1, I thought it was outstanding,” Thibodeau said of Barrett during his postgame interview. “He had six assists and four steals, although he didn’t shoot well.”
“The thing about RJ is he’s very steady. He doesn’t get rattled. And then he was really aggressive today. We got to get him into the open floor. When we do that, he’s gonna make shots. He gets downhill. He’s tough to guard,” he added.
A Confident RJ Barrett
Barrett made his first shot — a 3-pointer. It got him on track. He had 10 of the Knicks’ 17 points in the first quarter.
His driving layup two minutes into the second quarter ignited a 17-6 Knicks run that opened up the game for them. They built a 12-point halftime lead and never looked back.
“I came in confident,” Barrett said after working on his shot.
After misfiring in the series’ first two games, Barrett was on target in Game 3. He was 8-for-12 from the floor and 3-for-6 from deep.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Barrett, whose 6-for-25 shooting in Games 1 and 2 led to ESPN’s outspoken commentator and lifelong Knicks fan Stephen A. Smith suggesting on his show First Take that the Knicks should bench him for the rest of the series.
It was a good thing Thibodeau and the Knicks did not oblige.
Knicks’ Historic Defense
While Barrett’s offense got on track, their defense as a team was historic in Game 3.
No team has held an opponent to under 80 points this season until the Knicks did Friday night.
They also held Cleveland to its lowest-scoring first half in the playoffs in nearly four decades. The Cavaliers’ 32 points in the first half tied a franchise playoff low. Interestingly, their other 32-point first-half stinker came against the Knicks in Game 3 of the 1996 first round of the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The Cavaliers, who own the stingiest defense this season, had won all but two of their 26 games when they held their opponents to under 100 points. Interestingly, their only two losses in that span are against the Knicks — a 92-81 loss on Dec. 4, which turned the Knicks’ season around and in Game 3.
“You know, it’s one game. It is what it is. And so now the challenge is, get ready for game 4,” Thibodeau said of their defensive feat. “So we got to take a look at the film, look at things that we could do better, make our corrections and then be ready for the game on Sunday. But I think the activity on defense was important for us. Some of it, they missed some open shots, too. So we know that the next challenge will be even greater, and we got to play better.”