Yesterday’s game felt a little... overshadowed, for some reason. Like something way bigger than the game at hand had happened for one of the two teams. I can’t quite put my finger on what that was.
At any rate, the Nets were short a few guys and came into MSG with a motivated Kevin Durant (playing his first back-to-back of the year just for the chance to beat up on the Knicks), the sharpshooting Joe Harris, and a bunch of random Knick killers (Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot stood out). They won the game because Durant basically decided he wanted to win the game.
That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining, though. The first quarter featured a bit of a duel between Durant and Julius Randle, where, on a day that Brooklyn actually managed to grab some headlines for a change, he seemed motivated to spoil Durant’s first game in MSG as a Net. People don’t really think or talk about this often, but Randle was basically the consolation prize for the Knicks after they lost out on Durant and the currently-missing Kyrie Irving. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten that.
Randle came out trying to prove he's the biggest star in NY tonight pic.twitter.com/udGZ4CvPv7— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 14, 2021
Anyway, Julius had 12 for the Knicks in the first quarter; Durant had 7 for the Nets. But the Nets also did a better job getting everyone involved, whereas the Knicks were extremely reliant on Randle, which sort of set the tone for how things were about to go in the second quarter. Still, the Knicks managed to keep things close on Randle’s back, only trailing 26-25 after one frame.
In the second quarter, things fell apart. RJ Barrett was in another one of those ruts where absolutely nothing was falling for him. The Knicks couldn’t be bothered to try on defense for large stretches, and saw the Nets’ lead increase to as much as eight points around midway through the quarter. Then the Knicks made a mini run to get things within three points on an Immanuel Quickley triple (he had an awesome game, more on that in a minute).
That momentum wouldn’t hold up, however. The Nets went on a 9-0 run to end the quarter (including scoring by Durant, Harris, and [barf] DeAndre Jordan) and entered the half up 61-45.
But then, something miraculous happened: RJ Barrett woke up, to the tune of 18 second-half points. And no, it obviously didn’t change the overall result of the game. But it did change the overall vibe for Knicks fans in this one. That, plus Quickley making quick and effective decisions and Kevin Knox continuing his path toward becoming a legitimate 3-point gunner, made this game palatable.
RJ from deep. Pleaseeeee be the start of something this half pic.twitter.com/4M36V011TC— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 14, 2021
We even were treated to a fake comeback! The Knicks were down 18 with just over six minutes to go, but closed on a 21-10 run to lose by just seven, even creating enough of a scare to force Nets coach Steve Nash to throw Durant back in the game and ensure that Brooklyn came out with a W.
So, as moral victories go, it was a pretty good one.
— I mentioned that RJ turned it on in the second half, and I say this on Locked On Knicks a lot, but what’s funny about him is that the process is more or less always the same. The big difference with RJ is just if the shot is falling or not. You couldn’t have asked for a more stark contrast in the first and second half of this game.
Here’s an RJ attempt from the first half:
And here’s one from the second:
RJ againnnnnn— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 14, 2021
12 points in the 3rd quarter pic.twitter.com/kbsx5MrjWF
Pretty damn similar! The only difference is, one went in, and the other missed.
That’s why, for all of the very real concern about RJ panning out in the NBA, I’m not too worried. I don’t know that he’s ever gonna become a bonafide superstar or anything, but I feel confident that he has the work ethic and the drive to develop the consistency he needs to be a 20-5-5 player down the line. That midrange jumper is one of the first steps, along with getting better at finishing through contact (especially when he’s not getting a good whistle, which seems to be about 50/50 depending on the night). If he can then get the 3-pointer to around 33-35%, combined with his defense and passing, he could definitely be a good starter on a good Knicks team. Chill with the bust talk.
— Quickley was great in this game. Talk about having the green light. It seemed like the coaching staff basically told him to look for a shot every time he touched the ball. That resulted in some great attempts from three for Quick, rather than the hesitancy that we’ve seen from him in recent games during his little slump.
(Also shoutout to Randle lately, maybe one of the most important parts of getting whatever shooters the Knicks have open. He’s gotten so good at giving the handoff, and then getting himself in the way of the shooter’s defender either by a screen or just incidentally like above, giving the shooter all the room they need for a clean look. Quickley in particular has kind of a methodical release, but if you can give him the room he needs, he can cook.)
Quickley maybe relied a little too heavily on his floater at times (if you’re taking a floater from basically past the free throw line, you’re pretty much shooting a jumper at that point dude), but all in all this was probably his best game since the Hawks game. Here’s hoping his aggressive, decisive mindset is here to stay.
— Kevin Knox is officially becoming a gunner. I racked my brain on LOK last night about what player on the Knicks gave me more of an assured feeling than Knox currently does from the corners when he shoots... and I think the answer is Steve Novak? That’s kinda sad, but probably true.
Knox with 3 and then 3 the hard way from the corners! pic.twitter.com/KIbBVzZm7e— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 14, 2021
However, unlike Novakaine, Knox is capable of doing more than just standing in the corner bombing threes all day. He showed a couple other tricks from his bag in this one:
Knox into double figures! pic.twitter.com/xwa9fdPA7R— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 14, 2021
Knox showing off a midrange step-back now??? pic.twitter.com/31nqhcgix8— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) January 14, 2021
I don’t think Knox is suddenly going to turn into Durant overnight or something, but if he can nail down his 3-point shot as an undeniable weapon and then work on his driving and midrange games to get at least passable, maybe my ceiling comp of Rashard Lewis that I’ve been holding onto since his rookie season isn’t out of the cards just yet. Knox finished with 13 points on 5-6 shooting.
— I feel I should also shout out Julius Randle, who has managed to make 30-point games seem almost routine. I’m past the point of thinking “he should shoot from midrange only if he’s hot.” That’s his shot, and he knows when he has it or doesn’t on any given night. We’ve already seen him abandon it in some games if it’s just not there, but on nights like last night where it’s on, he should shoot as many of them as he wants.
— Mitch played well too, though he had a couple of moments where he got sonned by DeAndre Jordan a bit. I guess the master still has a few things in his bag for his student of yesteryear. But Mitch still had his moments too, and overall I’d say he had a better game than DAJ, with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks.
— Elfrid Payton sucks, and that’s about all I care to say about him. IYKYK. Commenter Real Clydes Wear Plaid knows: “Get Payton off the floor.” Well said.
— Obi Toppin “returned” and played 57 seconds. I literally missed it somehow. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about how he looked.
That’s all for today! If you want some more recap, check out Miranda’s over at The Strickland!