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One thing was clear from the Knicks' loss to the Celtics: They really needed RJ Barrett

The fifth-year forward missed the game in Boston with a migraine.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Knicks hung tough against the Boston Celtics in TD Garden for about 40 minutes Monday night.

With the Knicks down 91-82 with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead. The comeback quest only lasted so long as Jayson Tatum converted a four-point play at 7:57 to extend the lead back to seven. A Josh Hart missed layup with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter led to a Jrue Holiday three to put Boston up 98-88. The Celtics went on a 23-10 run in the final eight minutes to convincingly close this home victory.

RJ Out:

New York was not at full strength last night after RJ Barrett missed the game with a reported migraine.

The Knicks still had Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle on the court, but Barrett being out was a big deal. One could argue that the 23-year-old forward has been the best player on the Knicks this season.

I recently wrote about RJ Barrett turning that corner and how he has looked efficient and effective to start the season. This article was written after the Knick’s 111-97 win over the Clippers in James Harden's debut. In the two games after publishing, Barrett dropped 24 points in each game, resulting in two victories.

These two teams played in New York to start their seasons on October 25th. Boston would win an exciting game behind 30 points from former Knick Kristaps Porzingis. RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley led the Knicks with 24 points apiece. Barrett was also a +6 that game, compared to Randle (-13) and Brunson (-9), who both struggled in the opener.

The Knicks forward is averaging 22.6 points this season, tied with Jalen Brunson for the team lead. More importantly, he is shooting 47.9 percent on his two-point field goal attempts and 50 percent from three. Free throw shooting has also leaped, hitting 28/33 (84.8%) of his shots at the line.

RJ’s defense:

Jayson Tatum scored 35 last night and scored 34 in the opening game, but the Knicks were missing RJ’s length. The six-foot-six forward has a six-foot-eleven wingspan and can at least be a body to put on the six-foot-eight Tatum.

Barrett has a 99.3 defensive rating this season and is a positive (+0.1) in defensive box plus-minus for the first time in his career. He’s also made strides in defending shots. Last season, opponents shot 45.0 percent on 13.4 defended field goal attempts with RJ defending. This season, opponents are shooting 39.7 percent on 11.1 defended field goals by the Knicks fifth-year forward. This has been a necessary improvement for a player who has always had good size and length to be a good defender.

Missing link:

It was noticeable that RJ was not out there, specifically in the fourth quarter. Barrett is averaging 5.1 fourth-quarter points this season, first on the Knicks. In the Knicks’ opening loss to the Celtics, he went on a personal 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter and cut the Celtics lead to two. His last point would be a technical free throw at 7:24, but he was integral to the comeback at the start of the quarter. New York was missing that last night, and his teammates failed to show up in his absence.

Would the Knicks have beaten the Celtics on Monday night with RJ Barrett? We’ll never know now, but it’s clear how important he will be to the Knicks’ success this season.

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