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Knicks 109, Hornets 97: “RJ wet AF”

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A turd of a game got shined into a diamond by RJ’s hot shooting

Charlotte Hornets v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Seven straight wins.

The Knicks are now just two wins in a row away from encroaching on hallowed 2012-13 ground, which really speaks volumes to just how damn good this team is. You can’t really say, “Yeah, but, how good really are they?” with this team anymore. They’re just good. That’s all you need to know. Teams that aren’t good don’t go on seven game win streaks.

In fact, maybe the greatest testament to the Knicks’ newfound goodness is that the first half of this game would’ve surely spelled a loss for any of the teams of the last five or so years.

The Knicks came out scorching hot, making this game seem like it was going to be a laugher. A Reggie Bullock three put the Knicks up 12-3 about two-and-a-half minutes in, and with Charlotte still missing LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Malik Monk (three of their top five scorers), it seemed like the Knicks’ firepower might be too much for the Hornets on this night.

The Hornets are kinda like the Knicks, though — not in play style by ANY stretch of the imagination, but certainly by the fact that they’re a well-coached team that never lays down for anyone. By the time PJ Washing hit his FIFTH STRAIGHT 3-pointer, the Hornets had stormed back and taken the lead, 32-30.

The reason the Hornets were able to get back in it was pretty simple — poor effort from the Knicks on defense. It seemed like a number of their games prior to this win streak, where they just sort of assume they’re good enough compared to the other team to coast on defense, which was exactly the approach you can’t take against this Hornets team. I noted that Charlotte’s play style couldn’t be any different than the Knicks’, and that’s because they just run, run, run, run, run. Even off of inbounds, they’re sprinting down the court trying to find that open shot on the other end; that one defender who’s still trotting up the floor and left someone open in the corner. All of those open looks let Charlotte shoot an obscene 13-19 from deep in the first half.

Luckily, to make up for their cruddy defense, the Knicks got a hell of an infusion of Immanuel Quickley in the second quarter, which might be the story of the game if not for RJ Barrett’s exploits in the third. But let’s give Quickley his shine first.

He got on the board with maybe one of the most difficult makes of his NBA career:

And then would go on to follow it with a couple ho-hum, garden variety catch-and-shoot triples. No big deal for a rookie who we probably all take for granted a little, considering he’s shooting 46.5% on catch-and-shoot threes, per NBA.com. Again, AS A ROOKIE.

But you won’t find too many rookies, or players in the NBA in general, that can do this:

IQ would end that second quarter (which he played all 12 minutes of) with 17 points, buoying the Knicks all the way up until a quick 6-0 run by the Hornets put them up six at the half.

Then the second half came, which meant it was RJ Barrett time.

And speaking of elite catch-and-shoot 3-point shooters... if you take out the first five games of the season (the latter four of which included RJ’s infamous 0-21 drought from three), RJ’s shooting 42.9% on 3.5 C&S threes per game, per NBA.com. And after last night, he’s set his career high with six makes from deep twice in the last two weeks.

Most of his diet as he poured in 18 points in the third was of the catch-and-shoot three variety — four of his six makes, to be exact. And I have something else I want to bring up, but I’ll save it for the notes. All that you need to know about RJ’s third quarter, you can get from foiegrastyle’s comment: “RJ wet AF.”

Julius Randle also turned his play around in the second half, to a degree at least. It didn’t end up being his best game overall — 16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists on 5-16 shooting — but it was nice in a way to see that this win streak can continue on a night where Julius doesn’t explode for 30-plus points. An underrated aspect of this game for Julius, though — just two turnovers, good for a 3.5 AST:TO ratio, which I’m sure made Clyde very happy when he reflected on it later.

The Knicks kept their foot on the gas the whole fourth quarter, stifling any comeback attempts by the Hornets before they could even materialize, and that was in large part thanks to Derrick Rose’s eight points in the quarter. He would finish with 17 points and five assists for the game, just another in a string of great games for him during this win streak.

And with that, the Knicks are winners of seven straight, and in sole possession of the fifth seed in the East.

Notes

— So, RJ Barrett... does he have a ceiling? Can we quantify it? Because I don’t think that anyone in their wildest dreams would’ve seen him as a 40%-plus 3-point shooter in just his second year. Yet even if you keep his 0-21 stinker stretch in his stat log, he’s shooting 39.1% from deep this year. That’s not just good, that’s bordering on elite.

Now it would be fair to point out that most of those attempts are coming on catch-and-shoot, which is true. Pull-up 3-point shooting is the defining trait of a dominant scorer in today’s NBA, and while RJ’s actually shooting a pretty respectable percentage in that regard (33.3% per NBA.com), it’s on such a small sample (0.2 attempts per game) that it’s easy to just shrug it off.

But with how much his pull-up game from midrange has leveled up this year, it kind of feels like he’s just an offseason away from adding pull-up threes to me:

If that day comes, we might be talking about “How do the Knicks add a third superstar and form a big three?”

— I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up that The Strickland just dropped merch this week, and if you want to celebrate a dominant RJ Barrett game, there’s pretty much no better way than to get a t-shirt or a hoodie with him flexing on it to celebrate. That’s original artwork from our own Stingy, and all items on the shop ship free to the US and come with a baked-in donation to Safe Horizon, an organization that helps survivors of abuse to get back on their feet in the NYC area. So what are you waiting for, go get one!

— Taj Gibson provides so much value for every second he’s on the court. If you want to read a great piece about him, Benjy Ritholtz wrote one over at The Strickland breaking down film of all the little things Taj does on the court. The little things are one thing, though, but it’s plays like this that make me scratch my head and wonder how the hell Taj is still doing this at the ripe old age of 35:

— Reggie Bullock might be the best pure 3-point shooter the Knicks have had since Steve Novak. Who was the last guy you could reasonably trust to hit basically half of his attempts on 10-plus attempts per night on any given night? The big difference between Bullock and Novak, though, is obviously that Bullock can do that and then go clamp the other team’s best wing player on the other end. I think he’s a keeper, and I really hope the Knicks re-sign him.

— It’s time to start Derrick Rose, and maybe just banish Elfrid Payton the DNP-Coach’s Decision dimension. Especially once Alec Burks gets back, that has to be the case. Rose runs the offense so much better than Payton, especially with the Knicks’ best players out there, because at his best he’s shown more of a willingness to get others going than himself.

If that play above was Elfrid, it would’ve ended one of two ways — either with him effectively turning the ball over by shooting the three or driving head-first into three players at the rim, or by him immediately swinging the ball to Bullock, thus leaving him with only a contested shot. Rose, instead, made the smart play and drove in, but had the wherewithal to look for Bullock in the corner instead of jacking up an ill-fated layup attempt amongst the trees.

Quickley has also been showing an increased propensity for playmaking lately, so Rose starting and Quickley running the second unit off the bench just makes too much sense not to do it. Or so we think — it’s basically made sense all year not to start Elf, yet we still get treated to that lineup card tweet every game.

And that’s all I got for this one. Tough matchup for the Knicks tonight with the Hawks visiting, though both teams are playing on a SEGABABA, with the Hawks having to fly into NYC overnight. If the Knicks can pull of eight straight, then nine might not be far off, with the floundering Raptors coming to town on Saturday afternoon.