rj barrett
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The stars shine bright in MSG as the Knicks suffocate the Pacers 104-93.

This was the closest this year’s New York Knicks looked to last year’s New York Knicks. Call it a “vintage” Knicks win if you want. Whatever it is, it is a step in the right direction.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett led the way on offense, the defense tightened up as the game progressed, and they made enough plays in winning time to protect Madison Square Garden.

Barrett came out firing against this depleted Pacers backcourt, drilling six of his first seven shots en route to 19 first-quarter points. He finished with 32 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.

Randle looked like he was out of sorts for the first few possessions of the game, but he sorted himself out before long. His 30-point, 16-rebound performance was a callback to last year’s version of Randle. Perhaps that brief time away in health and safety protocols was exactly what Randle needed to find his rhythm?

The Barrett-Randle duo combined for 62 points on 24-for-40 shooting and it was the first time they both scored 30+ points in the same game. The rest of the Knicks shot 15-for-40 from the floor, but that doesn’t matter when the top dogs are eating and the defense is clicking.

And the defense clicked.

New York’s energy seemed to wear down this shorthanded Pacers squad. They were missing key members of their backcourt in Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, and Chris Duarte.

However, it was the physicality in the frontcourt that popped. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner combined for 20 points and 15 rebounds. Guarding Randle was a full-time job for Sabonis and it no doubt impacted him on the offensive end.

The Pacers only managed to score 17 points in the fourth quarter and 39 in the second half.

It’s not always perfect, but a win is a win. If the stars are shining, the defense is connected, and they make enough plays in crunch time, the Knicks can string together a few wins coming up.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. We have seen big games like this from Randle and Barrett throughout the season, but we haven’t seen it consistently enough.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.