The New York Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak on Tuesday evening against the San Antonio Spurs, dialing up at 121 point performance, thanks to third-year guard RJ Barrett.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau made a few changes in the contest, including starting Nerlens Noel and bringing in Mitchell Robinson off the bench. This seemed to be a productive move, as Robinson played 22 minutes, earning 11 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, and three blocks. Robinson has struggled with stamina lately, but easing him in off the bench and utilizing him in a complementary role sparked his production.
“It doesn’t matter who starts and comes off the bench. Today it worked,” Barrett said. “We’ll see how it is moving forward but whoever starts and come off the bench, we’re rocking with it.”
However, Barrett was the stand-out player in the contest, posting 32 points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals over 39 minutes. Barrett hasn’t been able to play an exorbitant amount of minutes in recent days, dealing with a stomach bug that has kept him on edge.
RJ Barrett said he had been dealing with the stomach bug for a couple of weeks, which could explain recent performance. Said it started to get really bad (I’ll spare you all the details) after the ATL game Nov. 27. Got really sick during the BKN game, then missed the next one.
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 8, 2021
Barrett shot just 29% from three-point range in the month of November, far below his 40% clip in 2020. The stomach bug has only been affecting him for the past four or five games, notably against the Atlanta Hawks.
Against the Brooklyn Nets, a game the Knicks should’ve mounted a resilient victory in, Barrett was pulled after just nine minutes due to the illness. He posted 25 minutes against Denver, but was mainly ineffective, shooting 14.3% from deep. His 87.5% shooting from three again San Antonio burst his cold streak, hitting seven shots from range.
The Knicks desperately need the best version of Barrett if they want to win games moving forward, given his excellence on defense when healthy and productive scoring. His increased energy fueled the starting unit, putting pressure on ball-handlers, getting into passing lanes, and fighting the positioning.
To open the year in October, he was regularly posting double-digit points and even recorded 20+ points on five consecutive games from October 28 to November 5. During that stretch, he tantalized teams like Chicago, Toronto, and Milwaukee.
When RJ is scoring adequately, it takes a ton of pressure off tower forward Julius Randle, opening up the floor for him to drive and also take shots from beyond the arc. Hopefully, his performance against San Antonio will spark a hot streak moving forward, as the Knicks desperately need to string a few wins after bringing the record back to .500.