No, RJ Barrett said with a smile, he was not surprised to log 41 minutes in his first full game since Christmas Day.
This is Tom Thibodeau we’re talking about.
“Whenever you suit up, expect the unexpected,” the Knicks’ cornerstone wing said after scoring 27 points and adding eight rebounds in their 119-113 win over the Pacers Wednesday night.
Barrett’s lacerated right index finger felt fine after it cost him the last six games, and his conditioning was there. He started hot against the Pacers, scoring 16 first-half points, but struggled a bit late. But for the most part, it was a strong return.
“I was trying to be aggressive,” Barrett said. “I’ve been working, I haven’t been just sitting down. Being able to go out there and my team and my teammates having confidence in me was huge for me. … Could’ve had a better second half, but I’m sure as these games go along, I’ll get better.”
Barrett suffered the injury on Dec. 27 in the opening minutes of an excruciating overtime loss to the Mavericks in Dallas. Counting that game, the Knicks went 4-3 without one of their top players.
In a surprise move, Thibodeau went much of the fourth quarter with Quentin Grimes on the bench, opting for Immanuel Quickley instead at one of the guard spots. Grimes did check back into the game with 1:15 remaining, and scored five points late to ice the game. He wound up with a team-high, plus-14 rating in 30 minutes and scored 18 points.
“We can close with ‘Quick.’ We can close with Quentin. Just the way that it unfolded,” Thibodeau said. “The pressure that we were facing, I thought ‘Quick’ gave us a little different look than Quentin. I’m comfortable with Quentin in those situations. I wasn’t going to take RJ out.”
Quickley came off the bench after starting the last seven games and had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in 26 productive minutes. … The Pacers were without starting wing Aaron Nesmith (non-COVID illness) and standout forward Myles Turner (back spasms).