If ever a team needed a solid bounce-back game, it was the New York Knicks. After a disastrous shooting performance from three-point range against Toronto two nights earlier, the Knicks (3-3) avenged an opening night loss to Indiana 106-102 Saturday night. The Pacers (4-2) entered the contest with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“It was great to come in here and get a win. They are playing as well as anyone in the league,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of Indiana.
RJ Barrett returned to the scene of his 26-point effort a little over a week ago and found redemption. After missing 21 straight three-point attempts over the last four games, Barrett was superb. He led the Knicks with 25 points and shot 4-5 from beyond the arc. Barrett also contributed five rebounds and three assists.
“I’m going to keep shooting,” Barrett said. “I’m getting open shots, I just have to knock them down.”
Point guard Elfrid Payton was pivotal. Payton was able to penetrate the Indiana defense seemingly at will to score in the paint. He finished with 19 points, eight boards and five assists.
The game was tight throughout. Indiana led 28-25 after a quarter and 51-50 at the half. New York was able to build a 10-point lead in the third, but back-to-back threes by Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner closed the gap to four. The Pacers grabbed a brief lead late in the frame, but the Knicks knotted it at 82 apiece heading to the fourth.
New York secured the win down the stretch with an impressive defensive effort. The Knicks converted four Indiana turnovers into nine fourth quarter points. With 1:35 to go, Julius Randle stepped in front of an errant pass and went coast to coast for a slam giving the Knicks a 100-96 advantage. With 40 seconds to play, Mitchell Robinson blocked a Brogdon jumper attempt. Payton then fed Rivers for a transition basket to finish off the Pacers.
Another key factor was Randle locking down Indiana center Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis, who scored 32 points against the Knicks in the opener, was held to 13 Saturday night.
“That’s what it’s about — whatever we gotta do to get a win, that’s the only thing that matters,” said Randle, “We did a great job of getting stops down the stretch and then on the offensive end, just playing for each other.”
Immanuel Quickley returned after a hip injury that forced him to miss four games and was effective. Quickley and Austin Rivers, in just their second games of the season, provided the Knicks with a spark. The backcourt duo combined for 12 points off the bench in the first half.
New York was 12 for 27 from three-point range for 44.4%. They shot 50.6% from the field. The Knicks outscored the Pacers 56-26 in the paint.
Robinson had his best game of the season with 16 points — 12 in the first half. Rivers added 15 and Randle 12.
Brogdon was a nemesis of the Knicks the entire game. Brogdon scored 17 points in the first quarter and led the Pacers with a game-high 33 points.
New York’s four game road swing culminates on Monday night at the Atlanta Hawks who are one of the most improved teams in the NBA thus far.
(Photo: Michael Conroy/AP)