SAN ANTONIO – If this is the turn of the season for the Knicks, they will always remember the Alamo.
Coach Tom Thibodeau made another change to the starting lineup on Tuesday, and it worked perfectly. Along the way, he could also have a fire lit under RJ Barrett and demoted center Mitchell Robinson.
Barrett and Robinson led the Knicks to a comfortable 121-109 victory over the Spurs at the AT&T Center, breaking a three-game losing streak and going back to 0.500 at 12-12.
“It’s important for us to get back on track,” Barrett said.
Thibodeau had already made some interesting remarks about Barrett having to work harder, shooting in the gym at night like he did last season.
Barrett came out of an 11-game 3-point shooting malaise as he scored 32 points, piercing 7 of 8 3-pointers, achieving his first five in a dazzling display. Barrett had shot just 22% on 3 of the previous 11 outings.
“I think that paves the way for everyone, and that’s the value of the 3,” said Thibodeau. “He’s feeling better, so we’ll start with that.” He was knocked down pretty well, not feeling well. So he’s back in the gym. He puts in a lot of extra work and he grooves his shot. And when he grooves his shot, we know he’s going to do it. “
Thibodeau sent Robinson to the bench, starting Nerlens Noel in the middle. Although Noel didn’t play such a big game, Robinson found a home in his new role with the second unit, as he scored 11 points with 14 rebounds – scoring a handful of his points on knocked down dunks.
Before the match, Robinson admitted that with his muscle weight gain, he had to work on his endurance as he got tired after six-minute bursts.
“I’m trying to rebuild that flame before I break my hand and my foot, trying to come back to myself,” said Robinson.
The Knicks won their first game since point guard Kemba Walker was demoted to full-time spectator status. His replacement, Alec Burks, scored 18 points and Julius Randle scored 15 points with a single turnover, earning rave reviews from Thibodeau.
In fact, Thibodeau was downright stunned after this one. He joked that Robinson did “cartwheels” when he heard he was demoted.
“We wanted to change things,” said Thibodeau. “These two guys are invaluable to us. Last year Mitch was playing very well before his injury, then Nerlens killed him the entire second half of the season. We are very attached to the two guys. We just wanted a different look. Guys are interchangeable. “
The Knicks lit him from a 3-point range, finishing the night 18 of 38 to 3 (47.4%) as the Spurs fell to 9-14.
Barrett led the charge at 3 points.
“I think Julius is getting so much attention,” Barrett said. “Derrick [Rose] and fast [Immanuel Quickley] drive and he leaves me wide open. I was open and I must continue to shoot them. The defense was really focused on Julius and we just moved him. “
Thibodeau couldn’t have been happier with every aspect including the 10 turnovers and the ball thrown like last season. Maybe he found something.
“I thought there was a lot of energy, a lot of effort, the concentration was much better,” said Thibodeau. “It was disinterestedness on both sides of the ball and that’s the way to play. “
A Noel-Robinson tandem could be the formula. Robinson liked the second faster unit.
“They’re running so I have to get down there,” Robinson said. “With them running, it makes me run too. “
Thibodeau felt like he saw a new Robinson, who walked into the press room strangely after falling on his tailbone in the second half when Drew Eubanks tripped.
“Activity, high energy, his focus,” Thibodeau said of Robinson’s behavior. “I thought he was great. So, second, third effort, protect the rim, make decisions at the right time, then the offensive rebound. Huge. ”