However this Knicks season unfolds and ends, there’s no denying that what Tom Thibodeau has done keeps the ship stable.
His ship did not have a captain on Thursday night.
Until RJ Barrett took the wheel and sent it to port.
Took the wheel at a time when Julius Randle was bumped with a barking thigh and navigating unexpected stormy seas to take the Knicks to an exciting fourth quarter comeback and 106-102 defeat the Wizards.
He squeezed past Bradley Beal for an and-1 that tied the game to 91. He made an effort. He inspired. He refused to lose.
When the winning time came, it was like Barrett was back with Duke.
Once Barrett refused to lose, all the Knicks did.
He had help – mostly Alec Burks (27 points off the bench, 15 in the fourth quarter) and Taj Gibson (diving for loose balls, putting up screens, forced to play the entire fourth quarter with Nerlen Noel sidelined).
Thibodeau is aiming for a 48-minute team one day. Until he gets one, it’s nice to have an ascending Knick like RJ Barrett as a building block.
Barrett’s resilience on this evening embodied what these Thibodeau Knicks are all about. He made a mistake on Garrison Mathews by shooting a 3 early in the first quarter. He couldn’t buy a basket.
But he found a way. He carried on an emotion at the end of the subsequent third quarter. a follow-up format.
“I tried to pump up the team, pump myself up,” said Barrett. “We had to fight, I knew we could get that victory, we all believed it.”
“You could see his confidence grow,” said Thibodeau. ‘He learns every day. The floor game has really expanded, he starts making plays, he sees the game. Finishing a lot better. The way he could stick to it and just keep going. “
Barrett’s leadership and Mamba mindset when it mattered wasn’t lost on Randle.
“His mental toughness to stay with it and play big pieces just says a lot about his growth and development,” he said.
Barrett did it all – 24 points out of 7 out of 22 shootings, 10 rebounds, five assists.
“I didn’t necessarily have things going,” said Randle, “but it was huge to step up RJ.”
For too long the Knicks didn’t show up for this one.
They were more like the David Fizdale Knicks.
The Wizards played like this was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Knicks played like this was Game 7 of the preseason.
A reckless disregard for the basketball, the matador defense, and stupid, uninspired play.
It was bad enough when Russell Westbrook hit a pass under the basket for a three-point game by Raul Neto in the second quarter. Thibodeau shook his head in disgust. When Neto missed the free throw from the trailing edge, the ball came back to him for a lay-up as no one blocked him.
The Knicks missed their first eight threes before Immanuel Brinkley pushed for one in the second quarter. They finished half with 1-for-14. Randle, often a double team, was deferred to teammates. Those postponed to Wizards defenders. There were two shot clock violations.
Then RJ Barrett arrived. When asked about Randle, he said, “We’re just holding it down for him.”
RJ Barrett knows that he is the one who is expected to take over most of the business.
“I love this team,” said Thibodeau before the game.
RJ Barrett reminded him why he does that.