RJ Barrett busted out his slump, Jalen Brunson dominated and the Knicks got revenge to cap an impressive road trip.
Barrett, who entered the night on an unsightly shooting stretch, connected on 10 of his 16 attempts and Brunson dropped 34 points with nine assists as the Knicks overwhelmed the Thunder on Monday night, 129-119.
The victory gave the Knicks (9-9) three victories on their five-game trip, which began a week ago with the temperature warming on Tom Thibodeau’s coaching seat.
The projections were bleak for the Knicks given the opponents on the West road trip, but they managed to do the following: give Utah its first home loss this season; win in Denver for the first time in 16 years; outrun a Thunder squad that beat up on the Knicks in MSG just eight days prior.
Thibodeau’s squad responded well to the tough schedule. The losses on the trip were against the Warriors and Suns, the last two Western Conference champions.
The Knicks now have three days off before a Black Friday matchup at home against the Blazers.
“Hopefully we can build on this and keep moving forward,” Thibodeau said.
In the previous five games, Barrett shot a miserable 26% — including 2-for-25 on 3-pointers. But he set a different tone early Monday night with a pull-up in the first quarter, a slam dunk and a 3-pointer.
Barrett shot 5-for-6 in the first half and finished with 25 points. .
“That was fun,” Barrett said. “Got a couple easy ones. Got it going from there.”
It was an important confidence booster for the 22-year-old and a nice complement to Brunson, whose 34 points tied his career-high for the regular season.
Julius Randle added 25 points to give the Knicks a Big-3 vibe.
“RJ had a big game, Jules had a big game. And, of course, Jalen had a monster game,” Thibodeau said.
The Knicks were utterly embarrassed by the Thunder at MSG, where they allowed a franchise-record 145 points in regulation. The game in OKC was different from tipoff.
With Barrett and Randle cooking, the Knicks led by 16 in the second quarter and 11 at the break. They took advantage of OKC’s lack of an inside presence, driving to the rim frequently and dropping 38 of their 68 first-half points in the paint.
The Knicks were missing Cam Reddish (sore groin) and Derrick Rose (sore toe), which gave Quentin Grimes a second straight start. Grimes drew the difficult assignment of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who dropped 30 points but wasn’t as efficient as usual while shooting 9-of-22.
In terms of organizational direction, the Knicks and Thunder have similarities. Both are stocked with future draft picks acquired in trades, although OKC has decidedly more. The Knicks are older and more expensive, but the biggest difference between the two is the 2018 NBA draft.
That’s when the Knicks drafted Kevin Knox with the ninth overall pick while passing up on Gilgeous-Alexander, who went 11th to the Thunder. Knox was a bust and was traded to the Hawks. Gilgeous-Alexander is among the NBA’s top players this season.
But on Monday, he wasn’t enough to overcome New York’s Big-3.
MITCH INJURED AGAIN
Mitchell Robinson left Monday’s game with a sore knee after playing just 13 minutes.
It was Robinson’s second game since returning from a two-week absence because of a sprain sustained to the same knee on Nov. 4 in Philadelphia.
Robinson, who started at center Monday, wore a knee brace that presented a mental obstacle.
“My biggest thing is when I do get [an injury], and I gotta put something on where the area is, I know that it’s there. My mind is constantly thinking about that instead of playing,” said Robinson.
“So I think I can figure out a way to just go with it, ya know? I know it’s there. Obviously, I don’t want to get hurt again.”
He did get hurt again.