Three takeaways after the Knicks snap a three-game losing streak
At least for one night, the New York Knicks can take a deep breath. They are back to .500 after taking down the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs, 121-109.
The three-game losing streak is over and significant offensive contributions from RJ Barrett led the way. A lineup change helped spur a change in the energy level of the Knicks, but not in the way we expected.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Knicks. The defense isn’t where it should be at this point in the season. Let’s take a look at three takeaways from this win.
RJ Barrett Progressing, Not perfect
Barrett played his best game in a while, cracking 20 points for the first time since Nov. 11. His 32 points led all scorers and that included a career-high seven threes.
This offensive outburst sustained the Knicks through three quarters. Barrett tallied 26 points in the first three frames before notching his final six on a pair of dagger threes in the fourth quarter.
Progress is progress, but Barrett wasn’t perfect.
If not for three or four missed bunnies in the lane and a missed free throw, Barrett could have eclipsed 40 points. This was Barrett’s best game in weeks, but there is still more to come.
Motivated Mitchell Robinson
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is showing that he’s not afraid of change. In an effort to shake up the lineup, Thibs swapped Nerlens Noel for Mitchell Robinson in the starting lineup. Although Noel wasn’t a game-changer, Robinson was rejuvenated in his new role.
His 11 points, 14 boards, two steals, and three blocks helped key a strong performance from the bench. We can chalk up Robinson’s improvement to a few things.
For one, the swap energized Mitch early in his minutes. Call it a kick in the butt or tough love. The benching — not necessarily a demotion — was a motivating factor.
There’s also the recent weight loss that the MSG broadcast mentioned multiple times. The 7-footer dropped from 280 to 265 pounds recently in an effort to improve his conditioning.
And it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Robinson is simply more talented than most backup centers. He is talented enough to be a starter and will feast on backups if he plays with this type of energy and effort at all times.
Was this a quick burst of energy from a benching, improved conditioning, a talent mismatch, or a mix of all of the above?
Defense Needs to be Better
A win is a win in the NBA, but the Knicks still have a long way to go before they are firing on all cylinders. The defense is still a work-in-progress. New York entered the game 22nd in defensive rating (109.8) per NBA.com.
They allowed the Spurs, a team ranked 23rd in offensive rating (106.7) entering Tuesday, to hang around for far too long. The hot shooting from three masked a few defensive issues that continue to linger.
New York’s defense is predicated on funneling the ball to those rim protectors while the other defenders focus on closing out on shooters.
Guys are late or flat-out careless on closeouts far too often. This is true for the centers, wings, and guards. It also doesn’t help that the team’s rim protection isn’t where it needs to be yet.
The defense was OK, but it needs to be better against the top teams in the league.
It’s a quick turnaround with three more games this week. There’s no off night after this one as the Knicks travel north to face the Indiana Pacers (10-16), a team reportedly close to blowing it up and rebuilding.
Then it’s off to Canada for a Friday Night Knicks game against the Toronto Raptors (11-13) to cap off a three-game road trip. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (16-9) will be in New York for a Sunday matinee to wrap up the week.