When they start saying your name in Madison Square Garden, it takes it to another level. He reaches another place. We know that Knicks fans are definitely loyal – to the team, yes, but especially to the fellow kids.
Hell, even Frank Ntilikina received a thunderous applause on a loyal Wednesday night when Merve Albert knocked out a shot just as he called “snowball fight time” and he is no longer playing here.
They are now singing RJ Barrett’s name in the Garden. The songs appeared several times as the Knicks got excited, beating the Mavericks 108-85 – perhaps their most impressive game of the season, a win that allowed them to return to .500 in the 21st. 21.
The Knicks suddenly played better at home – five straight for them in the garden, now 11-11 there for the year – and Barrett is the main reason for that. He scored 32 points against Dallas. When he joins the 31st in the game against the Spurs on Monday, that makes Barrett the youngest Nick to hit 30 consecutive backs in 212 days.
Two steps to Texas for the little one.
The garden noticed. The garden has been there for Barrett from the start, a difficult new season when he has had great success over the past year. This year started out boring, with Barrett having the flu, then spending time with COVID, struggling with it when he could play.
At the worst of those times, he said, “I understand that.”
He figured it out. Now he’s a multi-dimensional player – he’s increasingly fearless, not afraid to stop directly, no longer dealing with jumpers. It is good that he is not afraid. Boston’s Robert Williams played with him during a pair of games last week – blocking several of Barrett’s shots and substituting others. Barrett shrugged. He is still attacking.
“I became aggressive,” Barrett said. “I tried to read what the game was giving me.”
His game, at best, has now become a smorgasbord from the inside out, and he’s just getting better. His friend and teammate Evan Furnier said he was “unpredictable and much more dangerous” when he scored on three levels – inside, long range and midfield.
Watching Ja Morant and Barrett have become a lovely salon game – numbers 2 and 3 in the popular draft of 2019, for Little Stephen and Clarence Zion Williamson’s Springsteen – will each rise to NBA glory separately.
Morant is having a good year in good health and he plays for the Grizzlies, who sit comfortably in the Southwest Division. But Barrett began to become a regular force. He has averaged 23.4 points in the last eight games. He hit 46 percent. He returned to the game against the Celtics last Thursday, knocking out the most dramatic shot of the Nicks season.
And it’s been five months since he turned 22.
This is the part you should always remember.
“RJ is stable, never too high and never too low,” coach Tom Tibodo said. “He’s doing a lot of extra work right now, coming back to the gym at night. That’s a big factor. “
“There’s no limit to what he can do,” Fournier said.
And suddenly Nicks makes you think about what their ceiling might look like. At sea level, they have a chance to consolidate their records and climb the East before making a tough turn on the schedule next week. Julius Randle played better on Wednesday – in fact everyone played, scoring twice as many goals for the first time since all five starting game nights opened.
“We play good basketball,” Tibodo said. “We have to pack our days.”
“Tonight,” Furnier said, “should be standard.”
“When we share the ball, we stop, we run like that,” Barrett said, “it’s hard to stop.”
And when is Barrett playing like that? Yes. This shift has yet to be determined. For the player, of course. And for the team as well. Just listen to the Garden …