The most impressive shots in RJ Barrett’s 46-point repertoire last night were two he didn’t take. In the final minute of the New York Knicks’ 115-100 loss to the Miami Heat, Barrett had multiple opportunities to get free shots at a couple of makes and a half-dollar. Get thee behind me, Ricky Davis! Barrett kept his honor.
The cynics among us will point out that athletes performing public displays of “It’s more than a paycheck!” is the low-hanging fruit of Q-rating. Fair. But RJ’s 30-point first half was more than a lone diamond of light in an otherwise obsidian night. Look at the other Knicks who’ve done that in the past quarter century: Allan Houston, Stephon Marbury and Tim Hardaway did it once, Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson twice and Carmelo Anthony thrice. Four of the five were gunslingers, something Barrett is mos def not.
This was more Marbury-flavored: the best player on the floor knowing the only chance his team has to win is him dragging them there. RJ made 13 of 22 field goal attempts. That’s good! He also made 14 of 22 free throws, which a mother’s love would point out is one better than 13 of 22, and we love our moms, so we nod and let it go. The believers among us will point out going six of 11 from deep while getting to the line 22 times is something to get excited about, like if James Harden’s game was trapped in the body of someone who always gives a shit.
P.J. Tucker colliding with Quentin Grimes’ knee on a baseline screen forced the rookie out of the game and likely out a spell with a partially dislocated right patella. Beyond Barrett’s night and Grimes’ knee, the game went along as you’d expect. The Heat took control late in the second, when the Knicks kept turning the ball over and Miami’s scrambling zone may as well have been the Twilight variety, their offense a clockwork of trust and movement. The Knicks were Frankenstein-y patchwork series of efforts adding up to less than the sum of their parts. Alec Burks helped on the glass some. Evan Fournier...was willing to shoot, which is not something everyone can say. Not gonna judge any part of Mitchell Robinson’s game; his life has been hell of late, thankfully his father turned up safe, that’s awesome. Randle was letting RJ run the show, but he couldn’t make a shot all night and his decision-making cost the Knicks critical points late with an ill-timed foul and some backbreaking turnovers.
Late in the third, Randle stole an inbounds near midcourt. He got fouled but kept going, dribbling down the floor, rising at the basket and attempting a double-clutch reverse I did not think he could pull off. He couldn’t. A shorthanded underperforming Knick team rose up and tried to hang with the higher-class Heat. I don’t think most people expected the Knicks to pull it off. They didn’t.
- The leading contender for Best Supporting Actor tonight was pro’ly Jericho Sims, who was the first center off the bench and led all bench bigs with 18 minutes. Once again he flashed some terrific footwork defending out in space, in this case Tyler Herro. If by “everything is on the table” Tom Thibodeau meant Sims ahead of Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel, that would be welcome.
- Cam Reddish played 16 minutes. They were, perhaps involuntarily, extremely Cam Reddish minutes. He leveraged his size on the block before the defense was set into a double-team, then kicked out to RJ for a 3. There were glimpses of the defensive gifts; on a night Tyler Herro otherwise had his way, Cam gave him trouble on more than one occasion. Seeing Barrett and Reddish together for a stretch raises eyebrows in not a bad way.
- Have you ever seen Randle make a jumper after he spins right? I feel like no.
- When Deuce McBride checked in for last 2 minutes of the first half, you knew you were more likely to see Kemba Walker play in the second half than Marcus.
- At one point Jimmy Butler missed four straight free throws and I had a real sixth sense kinda vibe that he’d missed on purpose. Seems like the kind of dude who’d miss four free throws in a row for reasons we’ll never know.
- Kyle Lowry, as far personality and on-court wiles, is like Chris Paul with none of the bullshit. Like Butler, a fun person to watch hoop.
- I’ve always thought JR and RJ are best-suited not together, but I thought that meant one would end up being traded. I like the idea below, especially with Derrick Rose’s return canceled by a skin infection.
At a certain point Barrett & Randle are going to be so simultaneously important to the Knicks offense, Thibs is gonna have to stagger them.— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 26, 2022
We may have reached that point.
- These Knicks turn out some of the butt-ugliest corner 3s I have ever seen.
- MSG gave Walt Frazier a video tribute and ovation for becoming the first person ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame separately as a player and a broadcaster. If you found out there was a curse on the Knicks that meant they’ll never have good point guard play until Clyde’s off the air, which would you choose?
- Barrett became the second-youngest Knick to score 40+. The youngest? Carl Braun, back in 1947 when there was no NBA.
- I hate real golf but love mini-golf and video game golf. For Christmas my kid got me Mario Golf and we play it every day. On Mario Golf you use characters from Mario games, some of which are people, some of which are turtles, one of which is a gorilla, a few of who are of indeterminate...anything. Each character has a special power they can use a few times a round to mess up your opponent. You can turn their ball into an egg or a star or ice or blow it fifty feet away with a bomb.
Stick with me; it’s getting there.
I play this every day with my child. My child is nine. Often we play just for fun, with no care for the score. But sometimes we get competitive, and already, at only nine, they understand if they can bust out this special power to cost me a single stroke, it’s worth it. Behind door number two is Thibs refusing to challenge a seemingly obvious offensive foul on Herro in the fourth that was called a shooting foul on Mitch. The Knicks were down seven. If you’re down seven early in the fourth, and you can keep it there rather than eight or nine, isn’t that something you do?
- Guards and wings whipping their heads back like crash-test dummies getting whiplash at the slightest contact on drives is a thing I could live without.
- This was literally the longest non-overtime Knicks game I can remember. The first quarter took almost 45 minutes.
- I put the game on with New York up 8-0 and pushing up the floor. Between the subdued crowd, the Heat wearing white and the Garden court in its Halloween orange look, it wasn’t till midway through the first that I realized the game wasn’t in Miami.
Quoth P&T legend Chiniqua tweeting tonight: “Why are the Knicks playing Ball is Lava?” The turnovers really were gruesome. Next game is Sunday at 1 when the Knicks host the 76ers. Harden-Embiid? That could be fun to watch.