This is the Julius Randle and RJ Barrett that the Knicks have wanted to see this season.
New York picked up its fourth win in six games on Tuesday night, snapping a two-game skid that just so happened to coincide with Randle’s absence as he was stuck in COVID-19 protocols.
After quarantining in Oklahoma and driving to Dallas to spend New Year’s with his family, he arrived in New York on Monday, testing negative to rejoin the Knicks’ ranks.
Randle announced his return in style, posting a bruising 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting with 16 rebounds in a 104-94 win over the Indiana Pacers.
It was the first time since Dec. 14 and the eighth time this season that he hit the 30-point mark. However, he would not speak to the media after recent criticisms of his game.
“For Julius to do what he did today was just remarkable,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “To come off the health and safety protocol, travel, get here, and play. We had no idea what he was going to be like. Unbelievable effort, unbelievable game.”
He spent most of the night chasing Barrett on the scoresheet, though, as the young swingman rode a Thibodeau-labeled “incredible” 24-point effort in the first half to a 32-point night.
His aggressive play set the tone for the Knicks and Randle as he honed in on driving to the basket to accentuate his slashing style of attack. He also shot 12-of-20 from the field while going 6-of-8 from the free-throw line.
“With both guys, the most important thing was them attacking the rim,” Thibodeau said. “The game will tell you what to do… If we’re attacking the rim, it makes us different. And then it
allows us to set up our defense and do a lot of things.”
Barrett now has four career games in which he’s scored 30 or more points, breaking a tie with Kristaps Porizingis for the most 30-plus-point games by a player aged 21 or younger in Knicks franchise history.
“I just try to be aggressive, that is really it,” Barrett said. “When you get into the paint and make reads, you can either finish or kick out, and it puts pressure on the defense. The whole defense
collapses and it is easy basketball after that. That is what we are trying to do.”