Adam and Eve. Batman and Robin. Lennon and McCartney. George and Weezie. Chuck D and Flavor Flav. Mulder and Scully. Jordan and Pippen. Shaq and Kobe. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Benson and Stabler. Chocolate and peanut butter.
Add Julius Randle and RJ Barrett to the short list of history’s greatest duos after they took turns piloting the New York Knicks to a 104-94 win over the Indiana Pacers. For the first time ever both scored 30+, and it was efficient: a combined 24-of-40 (60%) from the field for 62 points. The other eight Knicks were 15-of-40 (38%) for 42. The Pacers were missing Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Chris Duarte, T.J. Warren, T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Isaiah Jackson and Goga Bitadze. A Knicks team that hasn’t been whole in weeks couldn’t care less. The East is a crowded crush from Washington at #7 to Atlanta at #12. When a stampede is on, there’s no room for fairness. You just keep climbing and keep breathing. If New York didn’t climb in the standings, at least they didn’t fall further beneath more bodies.
Randle’s performance may have been more impressive, as this was his first game in a week after contracting Covid. But the more meaningful effort may have been Barrett’s, now averaging 23 a game over his last four on on 50% shooting. Both have struggled with their shot versus last year’s numbers. If they play more like they did last night, the Knicks can turn 2022 around.
The Garden felt like late last year, with RJ’s 19-point outburst earning “R-J BARR-ETT!” chants from the crowd in the first quarter. He’d only scored 20+ in seven of his first 30 games, so it really was kind of a big deal. More encouraging than the ends were the means. Barrett may always be a streaky outside shooter; he certainly is at this stage of his career. He didn’t blow up early because his jumper happened to be hitting. Many of his buckets came from drives, where he’s at his best.
"RJ BARRETT ERUPTING IN HERE IN THE FIRST QUARTER."— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 5, 2022
He's got 17 points and counting. pic.twitter.com/ROGXfIuOCr
By halftime Barrett had 24, but the Pacers had fought off an early 12-point deficit to tie it at 55. It was pro’ly unfair to expect the 21-year-old to put up another 24-piece in the second half; thanks to Randle, it proved unnecessary. After letting Barrett cook early, Randle sent RJ to enjoy the picnic while he manned the grill. Julius netted 14 in the third quarter alone. Like Barrett, Randle returned to his place of power, roasting Indiana for 10-of-13 shooting inside the arc.
When they’re both pushing to the hoop, it’s a beautiful thing.
It wouldn’t be fair or true to say the Knicks won the game just because of JR and RJ. Yes, every other Knick non-center was rusty with their shooting, but basketball is a two-way game (which saddens my 9-year-old, who’s decided soccer is more fun to play because she can’t wrap her head around a game where you have to play both ends). The Knicks gave up 30 in the second quarter, then only 39 in the second half. Take away Keifer Sykes hitting half of his eight 3s and the Pacer starters were a lachrymose 2-of-19 from deep; on free throws they were just 21-of-32, with Damontas Sabonis (76% at the line this year) missing seven of 12. Randle led New York’s 51-35 rebound rout with 16.
To be fair, Indy was in weird waters due to their roster limitations. What a trip it must be for their fans seeing Lance Stephenson run the show in 2022.
So Lance Stephenson is back in a Pacer uniform and gets a second comeback to the Garden and also Rick Carlisle is trusting him to run offense and it's a lot to process. pic.twitter.com/ZzYUJZZfiW— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 5, 2022
But again, the Knicks have nothing to apologize for. This was a fun win led by their best player and the player they hope is their best in a few years. There was an extra buzz in the crowd. That’s what happens when the present and the future align as one.
- Randle decided not to talk to the press after the win. With the shit I’ve seen and heard people say and write about him, I don’t blame him.
Julius declines to talk to media after game. Probably feels coverage on him unfair https://t.co/lcM0fn06ip— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) January 5, 2022
- Remember the 2019-20 season? Specifically, how for a while at the start of the season Randle and Marcus Morris never both had a good game in the same game? They always seemed to alternate? Wouldn’t it be cool if Randle and Barrett suddenly figured it all out, and keep having good games together?
- Alec Burks looked in for a long night early, with Tom Thibodeau again asking him to start at the point and Sykes pressing him most of the way up the floor. AB responded with a workmanlike 14, 6 and 4, along with three steals and this sweet move and hint of a push. Eat your heart out, Micheal Jordan on Byron Russell.
- Award yourself $50 P&T bucks if you can honestly remember that it’s “Byron” and not “Bryon.” For me it’s like meiosis and mitosis — I will never, ever remember the difference.
- So, like, NOBODY at MSG seemed to be wearing a mask. Whenever I think there will actually someday be an end to this pandemic, a time when everybody is on the same page and committed to our shared best interest, I imagine Covid sitting back like it’s Katt Williams.
I honestly do understand there are people who follow sports to get a break from reality, and who didn’t order my takes on the larger world with their recap. I can’t imagine ignoring something that permeates so much of my day, though, especially when it’s the literal only reason I’m learning how to spell “Keifer Sykes” or posting Lance Stephenson clips.
- Underrated fun part of this game: watching Mitchell Robinson guarding Sabonis one-on-one. Sabonis didn’t get off many clean shot attempts — only nine. We’re not that far removed from when that cat was shooting like 94% from the field for his career against the Knicks, so seeing him struggle late against Mitch was not something I take for granted. Bless you, Saint Mitch.
- I’m not as wild about Immanuel Quickley as I feel a lot of Knicks fans are. I like him; he’s exceeded the expectations one has of the 25th pick in the draft. IQ is better this year than last. There’s obvious improvement. There are also moments like he had in the second half when he and Obi pushed up the floor on a fast break and Quickley dribbled back out behind the arc and missed a 3. Citing that one play isn’t meant to suggest that’s who Quick is, or that he does that sort of thing a lot. There’s just something there I don’t quite trust yet. IQ is at the top of my list of young Knicks I can see us looking back on wondering what we were smoking. Not the Landry Fields we need, but the one we deserve.
- Sykes was impressive. No fear in the 28-year-old rook, a pure pest early pressuring the ball fullcourt and on inbounds. He entered the night with 12 career points, matched that in the first and led Indiana with 22.
- Stephenson played for Atlanta Christmas Day when they fell at MSG. Is he the first player ever to lose two games at MSG in under two weeks for two different teams? Bluecheese signal activated.
- This recap began with some of history’s greatest duos. Guess who was back together tonight?
- MSG caught a properly-masked-for-once Thibodeau with his eyes bugging about something. Masked, intense Thibs looks an awful lot like Hannibal Lecter.
Quoth Purist__: “I love this! I love you all!” This game did have that warm-bath-in-an-opium-den-and-let’s-see-where-the-night-takes-us vibe. Taken in isolation, a definite high. Can they keep the good times going? Next game is tomorrow when the Knicks host the Boston Celtics in the front end of a home-and-home. Keep chasing that dragon.