After making his first shot of the night in the first 20 seconds of the game, RJ Barrett then went ice cold for the rest of the first half against the Hornets on Tuesday.
The second-year pro finished the first half 1-for-8 from the field in the game’s first 24 minutes, and with only three points to his name at that point, Barrett saw the Knicks facing a six-point deficit at halftime.
But in the locker room, Barrett got a pep talk from Julius Randle, and the veteran’s wise words proved to be prophetic, as Barrett scored 21 points in the second half to help lead the Knicks to a 109-97 win, the Knicks’ seventh straight victory.
And Barrett’s explosive second half started with a couple of dishes from his All-Star teammate.
“He told me in the locker room, he said ‘Big second half, Nine,’ and then went out there and he got me a couple open looks to start the third, and then it just kind of exploded from there,” Barrett said.
“He’s steady,” Randle said of Barrett. “He’s never going to lack confidence after missed shots. I tell him ‘Just keep shooting, keep being aggressive.’ I told him at halftime ‘You’ve got a big second half coming,’ and that’s exactly what he did. He was ready, ready to shoot, ready to make plays, whatever it was.
“That’s just the growth from year one to year two for him. He’s doing an amazing job for us and we’re going to need more him to do more for us to keep winning.”
Randle had a quiet night by his own All-Star standards, scoring 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting with 10 rebounds and seven assists.
But as Tom Thibodeau pointed out, Randle has the ability to impact the game in so many ways, even when he’s not scoring.
“That’s what Julius has done all year, and he didn’t score the ball like he usually does, but he made plays for us,” Thibodeau said. “He has great awareness for what’s going on in the game, and he gets people going.
“RJ in the second half, he got a great rhythm going. He’s been shooting the three great for us. He’s got to continue to do that, but Julius can beat you a lot of different ways. He can beat you with the pass, he can beat you with his rebounding, he can beat you with his post-up, shoot the three, going off the dribble. … Just making the right plays, trust the pass, trust your teammates, and that’s what this team’s done well.”
Barrett continues to make strides in his second year as a pro, having made a noticeable improvement to his three-point shot, looking more and more comfortable every time he shoots the ball.
According to Barrett, having the mental toughness to forget about a bad stretch is something he’s possessed from a young age, but this group of Knicks also makes sure to pick up their teammates when someone is in a rough stretch.
“I feel like my dad instilled that in me at a young age, and it definitely is a big help, because it’s a long game. But having a team, and coaches, and the staff that we have, they always encourage you to keep going,” said Barrett. “Whenever someone’s down, they always pick them up. Whenever someone’s up, we tell them to keep going. We really have a great, unselfish unit, and that really helps your mental strength more than anything.”