It won’t solve the problem of his late game absences, but RJ Barrett found a way to at least redirect the attention Saturday night.
Barrett dished out seven assists and scored 25 points (his most since scoring 30 on Feb. 2) as the Knicks beat the Pelicans 128-106 at the Garden. It was the sixth time in Barrett’s four-year NBA career that he had seven or more assists. He attributed his facilitation to being aggressive on offense. He also noted that shots made, a key component, were followed up by other Knicks after his passes.
“The playmaking was amazing, the power play, just read the game really well,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Barrett. “Aggressive at the start, good pace, and then when there was movement around him, he sprayed it and created easy shots for us. And when we get our team to do that, we’re going to score a lot of points.”
Barrett’s big game came a night after Thibodeau kept him off the court for the final 7:56 of a close game against the Wizards. Before Saturday’s game, Thibodeau attributed his decision Friday to “sometimes, somebody else makes it and that’s the way it is.” But it wasn’t the first time this season the coach removed Barrett, his 22-year-old, $107 million star, at crunch time in the fourth quarter.
“It’s going to be what goes well, but RJ is obviously a very important part of the team,” Thibodeau said.
Two of Barrett’s assists came early in the first quarter. Barrett lobbed to Mitchell Robinson, who scored to give the Knicks a double-digit lead. Later, he executed a drive-and-kick to Randle, who hit a 3-pointer from the left wing.
Barrett also found a scoring rhythm early, challenging Brandon Ingram one-on-one and beating him with a crossover and a step back to open the scoring. He added 10 points in the third quarter, including eight in the first 3:13.
“[Barrett] it was great,” Randle said. “How he was reading the floor, getting guys open early with how they were playing and holding his feet when he got into the lane.”
Near the start of the second quarter, Barrett curled around a screen by Isaiah Hartenstein and drained a 3-pointer. He sank another 3 later in the fourth after Jalen Brunson threw a crosscourt pass near the right corner where Barrett was.
Between those two baskets, he added another pair of assists — facilitating a Robinson dunk and a Josh Hart jumper — that helped him reach his season high since December. 11 when he had six in a win against the Kings.
“We clicked really well as a team today,” Barrett said.