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Knicks 106, Pacers 102: “Feels like a revenge match”

Indy, back to .500

NBA: New York Knicks at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m just gonna shout out commenter arckillious right away for the game quote: “Feels like a revenge match. Knicks by five.”

Pretty damn close! And that was the very first comment in the game thread too!

Yes, the Knicks went into Indianapolis and exacted their revenge on the Pacers last night, winning the game 106-102. Most importantly, RJ Barrett saw a return to form, hitting 8-15 from the field, 4-5 from three, and 5-6 from the line (including four in a row to ice the game) en route to 25 points, five rebounds, and three assists.

But this game wasn’t entirely about RJ, even if the Knicks owe a lot to him in this one. Probably the most important/impressive thing about this game was the fact that the Knicks hung as tight as they did in the first half. In said first half:

  • Malcolm Brogdon went off for 17 points
  • Victor Oladipo took 11 free throws
  • Domantas Sabonis had nine points and five rebounds on 50% shooting
  • Julius Randle had two points on 1-7 shooting

But the Knicks entered the break only down 51-50 because:

  • RJ was killing it to the tune of 10 first half points, as mentioned
  • The Knicks out-rebounded the Pacers 29-15, including Mitchell Robinson going 6-6 for a team-high 12 points on mostly tip-ins
  • Some inspired play by Immanuel Quickley and Austin Rivers, who combined for 12 points on 4-6 shooting off the bench
  • Mitch and Nerlens Noel were able to stay on the floor thanks to some inspired defense by Randle on Sabonis, bothering him in ways he wasn’t in the first game (he also didn’t get the “breathe on him and it’s a foul” whistle that he got in the first game — that went to Oladipo this time around)

Pretty much all of those positive traits carried over for the Knicks in the second half, while the Pacers kept things close but ultimately fell apart at the seams down the stretch. Two plays in particular served as daggers for the Knicks at the tail end of a 9-0 run in the second half. First, a steal and a slam for Randle, which put the cherry on top of his excellent defensive showing on Sabonis:

And then a trademark (yet still ridiculous) 3-point attempt block by Mitch, followed by an arguably more impressive heads-up pass as he corralled the block, leading to a transition layup for Rivers to more or less seal the game:

The cherry on top was RJ closing the game out with four straight free throw makes on intentional fouls. Easily one of the most exciting games in recent Knicks memory, mostly for the fact that a lot of players that figure to have real futures with the Knicks played a big part in it.


— I didn’t note, but it should probably be noted — the Pacers were the top team in the East thus far, coming into this game at 4-1. They’re still sitting pretty in second place behind the 5-1 Sixers, which reminds me: to this point, the Knicks have come to a 3-3 record while facing the 4-2 Pacers twice, the 5-1 Sixers, the 3-3 Bucks, and the 4-2 Cavs. Small sample size obviously, but that’s pretty good in the early going for a supposed cellar-dweller.

— Randle really played some great defense on Domantas Sabonis. Randle’s stat line wasn’t quite up to the lofty standards he’s set recently — 12 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, 5-16 shooting — but this game proved that he can absolutely still have an impact on a game when his shot isn’t falling, which isn’t something that could really be said of him last year. This play was pretty emblematic of what Randle did to Sabonis:

Basically, “I’m not going to bite on any of your fakes and bullshit, please leave that at the door.” Sabonis clearly did not like meeting a defender who was both as strong as him and unlikely to fall for any of his tricks.

— Speaking of Sabonis getting D’d up, Mitch must have felt pretty good about absolutely eating him alive on this play:

This came after Mitch had had to sub himself out to either take a pee or a poop in the first quarter, so clearly he was feeling a bit lighter.

— Shooting for hours and hours in the gym after a loss must be the ticket for these Knicks. We saw it work for Elfrid Payton about a week ago, and now it comes in handy for RJ Barrett, who spent his New Year’s Eve and Day (Happy New Year to everyone here, by the way) shooting tons of jumpers to try to find a rhythm and break his extreme cold spell from distance.

Clearly it worked, because as already noted, he hit 4-5 from distance in this game. I don’t necessarily think that it really opened up more of his game for him, because the Pacers clearly just weren’t respecting him in this game, but hitting those open jumpers with some consistency (even at a more normal rate, like 35-40%) will eventually yield teams closing out on him and creating more open driving lanes. Even so, without wider driving lanes at his disposal, RJ still managed to get some nice finishes inside.

— Probably my favorite play of the game came from Austin Rivers, who had himself a game off the bench — 15 points, two rebounds, two assists on 6-9 shooting in just 17 minutes. He got the ball on the wing behind the line, gave a little jab step and ball fake to the left, then a step and a fake to the right, and managed to turn pretty decent 1-on-1 defense from Doug McDermott into a completely wide open attempt from deep:

He also wrecked Victor Oladipo 1-on-1 on the perimeter, breaking him down and getting an easy layup:

Two games into the Austin Rivers experience, I can’t decide if I want him starting or coming off the bench for the Knicks. All I know is I want to see him playing all the time.

— On that note, Thibs almost subbed Rivers out late in the game when he was hot for Reggie Bullock (who was not hot), but then quickly changed his mind and let Rivers close the game. Coaching! It’s fun to have someone at the helm who’s OK with breaking the game plan for minutes distribution and is willing to let someone cook.

— Also, speaking of nasty fakes, Nerlens Noel juked Sabonis out of his jersey with a fake on the perimeter for some reason. Still trying to figure out what Sabonis thought Noel was going to do here:

— One of the more impressive defensive sequences of the night came after a Rivers layup in the second quarter. Austin went at the hoop with a little too much zeal and went flying into the stanchion under the hoop, smacking his noggin and ending up on the ground for the whole next defensive possession. The Knicks then proceeded to cover pretty damn well for a 4-on-5:

Myles Turner is a “stretch 5,” but if you can turn a possession where you’re a man down into a 3-pointer from a guy shooting .226 from deep on volume to start the season, that’s about the best possible result.

— We got to see Breen and Clyde’s commentating setup for (I think) the first time in this game. Pretty nifty how they convert the MSG studio like that!

Also props to Breen and Clyde for delivering the same level of commentary whether the Knicks are at home or on the road. Other than the occasional mention from Breen that they’re at MSG studios (usually when a foul call or something like that happens and he can’t get the intel right away from the road arena), the experience has been seamless, and I’ve really appreciated that.

— Immanuel Quickley returned and delivered exactly what you’ve come to expect from him — threes, nice passing, lovely floaters — but also displayed his penchant for drawing fouls. Even if they didn’t end up getting him shots at the free throw line, Quickley racked up Indy’s team foul count like crazy and kept getting the Knicks in the bonus.

— Payton had what I’d call an “average good Payton game.” He had a pretty blah first half, followed by a second half where he managed to get into the lane a lot en route to 19 points, eight rebounds, and five assists on 8-17 shooting. The reason it’s an “average good” Payton game is that he went 0-1 from deep and seemed to have absolutely no desire to shoot from there.

That’s about all I got/feel like writing for this one. Really quality win. I love seeing these new Knicks able to put on the clamps and finish a tight game (which, I guess my final thing would be shouting out Thibs for actually having a plan in the last couple minutes of games, something we couldn’t ever take for granted before now).

If you’re hungry for more Knicks recap action, check out Stingy’s over at The Strickland! He does it better than me anyway.