RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks (292819)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

Nothing has come easy for the Knicks this season. They are the epitome of grinders. After losing five out of six games from March 29 through April 7, falling to 25-27 and seemingly hitting a proverbial wall, the Knicks found the resolve to win three straight to get back over .500 at 28-27 heading into last night’s matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans on the road.

Resilience has defined them. No victory has typified their mental and physical toughness more than a 133-129 overtime win over the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday at Madison Garden. After taking a 3-1 lead at 10:42 of the first quarter, the Knicks trailed the Grizzlies for virtually the entire game and were down by 13 at 6:40 of the fourth quarter before staging a comeback.

A three-point play by forward Julius Randle with a little over one minute remaining and three clutch free-throws by guard R.J. Barrett with 37 seconds left after he was fouled on a three-point attempt, tied the score at 112-112. The fourth quarter ended 114-114 before the Knicks completed the improbable win.

“The fight was terrific,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. “The perseverance and in the end we made things go our way.” It was a critical win for a team that was reeling.

“We needed it bad,” said Randle. “This was the way to break out of that…little slump or whatever you want to call it. This was definitely the game to do it. Guys stepped up.”

The Knicks are devoid of a transcendent star or the requisite two and three All-Stars that are the cornerstones of the NBA’s top teams. They are not currently built to be carried over three and four game stretches by a core of elite talent. They rely on collective and timely offensive contributions, dogged defense and relentless effort.

“Keep working hard, keep working together and it’ll pay off,” said Barrett after his pressurized performance versus the Grizzlies. It could aptly be the Knicks’ manta. Barrett has been an indispensable component of the Knicks’ upward trend from a season ago. As a rookie his outings resembled a stock market curve as ups and downs exemplified the native Canadian’s debut campaign.

In his sophomore season the 20-year-old from Duke has improved by the eye-test and statistical measures in several areas, notably his decision making, play-making and shooting. Barrett has raised his overall field goal, three-point and free-throw percentages markedly from a year ago.

Prior to facing the Pelicans, he was shooting 45% on all field goal attempts, 37.8% on threes and 73.5% from the foul line. Last season the numbers were 40.2%, 32% and a troubling 61.4% respectively. Barrett had also increased his points, assists and rebounds per game from 14.3, 2.6 and 5 to 17.4, 3 and 5.7.

The Knicks will meet up with the Mavericks in Dallas tomorrow before playing six straight games at the Garden, where they are 17-10 this season. They have a rematch with the Pelicans this Sunday, followed by the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday and the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.