That game was really just what the doctor ordered.
I know my heart couldn’t take another game like the ones the Knicks have been in against the Nets, Sixers, and even Magic this past week. I can’t imagine what Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, or — heaven forbid — Tom Thibodeau must have been feeling lately.
I was actually kind of worried before the game that the Wizards might not be the pushover that their record suggests — they’d played a lot of the same teams close that the Knicks have also lost to close recently, so this kind of had the makings to me of a bit of a trap game.
Luckily, Julius Randle had other plans.
The Knicks’ star scored 37 on 13-24 shooting, including 7-10 from three, and made it look reallllllly easy. The Knicks were up eight after the first quarter, up 20 at half, and up 28 after three quarters.
But it wasn’t just Randle balling out. RJ Barrett started this game with all five of his assists in the first quarter — tying his season-high that he mysteriously just can’t seem to break, despite spending many first quarters diming up his teammates. That became especially necessary when Thibs replaced the foul-troubled returning starter Elfrid Payton (oh noooo) with Alec Burks, utilizing the point guard-less look that has proven pretty successful for the Knicks lately.
RJ to Randle, I love this song pic.twitter.com/nTNyOQoUNg— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 23, 2021
Look at RJ drawing all five defenders towards him in the paint and finding Burks perfectly in the corner for 3 pic.twitter.com/iXGcuqiQe1— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
That second play was probably my favorite of the night by RJ. He might not have the explosive athleticism of his draft-mate Ja Morant, but he makes up for it in spades with guile and patience. He waited until literally every Wizard defender had a foot in the paint trying to stop him before he kicked that ball out to Burks.
Meanwhile, Tom Thibodeau kinda trolled the refs in the first quarter, and I loved it:
Look at the top right of the frame at the start of this clip— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
Thibs MADE SURE the refs heard him challenge today pic.twitter.com/bo0URwszGd
He made SURE that they heard him today.
Randle, meanwhile, was absolutely on fire. He had 12 points in under eight minutes to start the game, abusing whatever defender the Wizards sent after him. As commenter IronGiant18 said, “Randle just can’t miss.” I didn’t care enough to timestamp trace when exactly that was said in the game thread relative to the flow of the game, because quite frankly, it didn’t matter. From start to finish, Julius was toying with Washington.
Julius: 12 points in under 8 minutes pic.twitter.com/wo13y6yhK7— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
Shoutout to Alec Burks for really busting his ass on defense lately, too. This play impressed the hell out of me:
Look at the hustle by Burks leading to the Reggie 3!! pic.twitter.com/pTqVmERa6p— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
The precision of that pass didn’t seem unintentional. He knew he had to get it over the guy he was stealing the ball from, and he knew there was a cluster of Knicks getting ready to go on the break.
Mitchell Robinson also saw a return to form, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself back in the starting lineup as soon as Thursday. This alley-oop was simultaneously one of the sloppiest and most impressive that I’ve seen from Mitch:
Mitch with an... unconventional alley-oop pic.twitter.com/r0blbGIO5s— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
The second quarter brought much of the same dominance from the Knicks. Julius regressed big time, only scoring 11 points this quarter instead of his 14 in the first. Oh, wait, he only played eight minutes in the second quarter. Nevermind, he got better.
Julius cannot be stopped tonight pic.twitter.com/KhA6xoKxPz— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
Meanwhile, the highlights just kept flowing like fine wine. Immanuel Quickley had a relatively quiet game by his standards (if you can call 14 points on 4-8 shooting “quiet,” though he did most of that damage in garbage time), but he got the Garden to its feet for probably the loudest cheer heard in that building since fans were allowed back in.
IQ just juked Neto out of his size 6s and splashed a stepback to get probably the biggest roar out of the MSG crowd yet this year pic.twitter.com/l5bc1CgjVT— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
RJ sent Westbrook packing (and Westbrook complained about the call, c’mon man):
RJ blocks the crap outta Westbrook, we get a Clyde "ALOHA!" pic.twitter.com/hKptewzdEx— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
Did I mention Mitch was back to doing Mitch things?
Seems pretty safe to say Mitch is back! pic.twitter.com/O2x6wgQAF5— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
The Knicks carried a 69-49 lead into the half, and they didn’t let up in the second half. Thibs wouldn’t let them. Some were even unhappy on Twitter that Randle and some of the other starters (namely RJ and Reggie Bullock, who left the game with an injury but came back) played as much as they did, but it was clear that Thibs wanted nothing like the game last week against the Magic, where the Knicks were up comfortably for most of the game until the Magic made in uncomfortable in the fourth.
In the third quarter, though, it was still extremely smooth sailing. RJ switched gears from distributing in the first quarter to just ruthlessly sonning the Wizards for the rest of the game thereafter to the tune of 21 points.
And, oh yeah, Randle kept scoring. He got to his final number of 37 points with 2:30 left in the third quarter. Not too shabby!
Clyde and Breen just got done talking about how Beal "took the challenge" to guard Randle tonight (for some reason) then Randle puts Beal on skates and drops him to get up to 37 points pic.twitter.com/hTmBN5ytVR— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
For some reason, Beal (apparently?) chose to guard Randle, and just kept getting rocked. Then Beal started talking lots of junk to Randle, and Randle talked junk back to him. Lots of energy from Beal in all the parts of the game that didn’t matter while his team was down almost 30. Maybe he and Westbrook really are a match made in heaven.
The fourth quarter saw the Knicks sort of switch into cruise control, which led to the aforementioned moment where Thibs got pissed off and put some of the starters back in to close out the game. We did get a couple more great RJ and Mitch moments, though:
RJ is playing extremely loose tonight and I LOVE IT pic.twitter.com/FbvApAXL4r— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
And that was the game. Exactly what the Knicks needed after a week of nail-biters. Hopefully Thursday’s game can be much of the same.
— RJ just continues to impress, and I’m honestly not really sure what his ceiling is at this point. I remember Nate Duncan coming on Locked On Knicks with Gavin and I during the offseason and we talked about RJ, and at that time I had his ceiling pegged as basically Jimmy Butler. But now that his shooting seems arguably better than Jimmy’s has ever been already... I dunno! All I know is that RJ is, at minimum, going to be a 15-year NBA player, health-permitting. He just tries too hard for that not to be the case.
— Seeing Mitch round back into form was a treat, and proved why it was silly to ever really think Nerlens Noel could properly replicate what he brings. Nerlens is a fun player in bursts off the bench, disrupting both shots and passing lanes, but he just doesn’t have the heft to really hold his own for a full starter minutes load most nights. Plus, Mitch finished at least three buckets that would’ve almost certainly been Noel turnovers on offense thanks to his lack of hands.
— Seeing Elfrid Payton back on the court was not as fun. I don’t remember if it was the first possession of the game, but certainly on one of them he did his thing where he treats himself as option Nos. 1-3 on offense, dribbles into traffic, does nothing to try to draw contact, and chucks up a layup attempt that misses the mark. He just doesn’t keep the flow of the offense going, and after however many games it’s been without him in the lineup, it became that much more obvious when he came back in this game.
— On the other side of “guys I don’t really want to see play anymore” is Obi Toppin, but for different reasons. He just seems broken right now, and I get the feeling it’s largely between his ears. He took a really easy, wide open 3-point attempt in this game and managed an airball. Mitch was just gushing the other day about how much he learned while sitting on the bench recovering from his broken hand. Could the Knicks not do the same for Obi, despite the fact that he’s healthy? It seems like a little time to regroup would do him good right now.
— With that said, maybe it’s time to give the “Knox at the 4” experiment some time? It’s only an investment of like 5-8 minutes per game if he takes Obi’s spot.
— Also in the Obi department: I no longer will internally bemoan the decision to draft Obi over Deni Avdija. That kid can’t defend anything. He got super sauced up by RJ early in the game, and then got hesi’d into oblivion by Frank later on.
BEAUTIFUL feed by Frank to Bullock for 3— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) March 24, 2021
(Also Deni Avdija looks unplayable on D) pic.twitter.com/0HRWLGrHDd
— If that big article in the Post by Yaron Weitzman was right a couple weeks ago, then Alec Burks has done a huge favor to Brock Aller these last few weeks to get his trade value up. Three straight 20-point games for Burks, who didn’t have his usual mix of “OH, WHAT THE HELL” moments sprinkled in with the “DAMN, THAT WAS NICE” moments in this game.
That’s all for this game. For more, be sure to check out MMiranda’s recap over at The Strickland (which, in my humble opinion, is much better than mine)! Next one’s tomorrow at home again vs. the same Wizards. Will it be the same Knicks taking the court after the trade deadline? Guess we’ll see!