Tom Thibodeau’s fruitless search for answers Sunday led to RJ Barrett on the bench.
James Dolan couldn’t have been happy from his baseline seat witnessing Sunday’s atrocity, a 145-135 defeat to the Thunder that represented the most points allowed by the Knicks in regulation since 1979.
Part of it was foul trouble, with Barrett collecting his fourth personal early in the third quarter. But Thibodeau never re-inserted his second-leading scorer.
“I’m fine,” Barrett reassured, “I’ve played a lot of basketball.”
Still, Sunday was the low point for Barrett during another inconsistent season. He shot 2-for-10 while missing multiple out-of-control attempts at the rim.
And although Barrett has taken pride in defending the opposition’s top perimeter threat, Alexander, who dropped 37 points, just became the latest star to put up big numbers in that matchup.
“It falls on me for sure because I was guarding Shai and he got me into some foul trouble,” Barrett said. “And that’s not good. I got to do a better job of not fouling. Especially the silly one in the third. So I got to do better with that, too.”
Thibodeau, who has become increasingly flexible (some might say desperate) with his rotations, closed Sunday with three starters — Julius Randle, Jericho Sims and Cam Reddish — and two reserves — Immanuel Quickley and Evan Fournier.
They cut the lead to single digits but never truly threatened OKC’s victory.
“We just got behind by so much,” Thibodeau explained of benching Barrett. “We were looking for life and that group that was in there gave us a little bit of a spark and so that’s what we went with.”
Although Fournier missed all three of his fourth-quarter shots and was booed from the Garden matinee crowd, Thibodeau never returned to Barrett, Jalen Brunson or Quentin Grimes.
“Once we cut the deficit to 10, 8, I wanted to see where it would go,” Thibodeau said.
Brunson is a playmaking spark plug but continues to be a defensive liability, which has helped the opposition feel giddy about launching a league-high 40.4 3-point attempts per game against the Knicks before Sunday’s embarrassment.
Brunson was certainly understanding of his fourth-quarter DNP.
“I wouldn’t have played myself either, the way I was playing defensively,” he said.
Barrett, despite his benching and ugly performance, pushed back at the idea that he’s struggled this season at finishing at the rim.
He said that was more isolated to Sunday.
“Don’t say that. I’m shooting 60-something percent in the paint (down to 58.8% after Sunday). Look at some stats,” Barrett said. “But a day like today, they were packing the paint. The sprays were available. We just have to do more what they did. Everybody touch the ball. Everybody moving. It’s a lot on me. I took a lot of bad shots.”