Knicks' Tom Thibodeau explains RJ Barrett benching against Lakers

Jan 31, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) brings the ball up court against Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Jan 31, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) brings the ball up court against Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (17) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.  

It was a rough night for RJ Barrett and the Knicks.

Not only did New York fall 129-123 to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, but their young star was seemingly benched down the stretch.

With 6:51 left in the fourth quarter, and the Knicks down 104-98, Barrett was subbed out for Quentin Grimes. Coach Tom Thibodeau decided to go with the group of Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and Isaiah Hartenstein to try and get back in the game.

The combination worked as this group helped New York claw back and force overtime.

"We were just looking for a group to get going. So the group that was out there was what we went with," Thibodeau said of Barrett not being on the floor after the game.

In 27 minutes, Barrett scored 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting, and had two assists and three rebounds. Barrett did score six points in the fourth quarter before he was pulled, but with him on the floor the team's defense suffered.

From the start of the fourth quarter to when Barrett was subbed out, the Lakers shot 8-for-8. For the rest of the quarter, the Lakers shot just 3-for-11.

When approached by reporters after the game, Barrett declined to speak.

Perhaps if the result was different, Barrett's demeanor after the game would have been too. Unfortunately for the Knicks, this group could not close out the Lakers and they ended up losing their second straight game.

Brunson, who tied the game at 114, called his team's performance in OT "disappointing" and when asked what they could have done better, the first-year Knick was brutally honest.

"Play better defense. Put more points on the board, really. They kinda just kicked our a-- in the last five minutes."

But what does this benching mean for Barrett?

Thibodeau has Barrett, Quickley and Grimes at his disposal and can only really play two of them at one time. Quickley has become the Knicks' top option off the bench, but Thibodeau felt it was best that he and Grimes were out there down the stretch. And it almost worked.

This benching is likely temporary and Barrett will probably be in the starting five when the Miami Heat arrive at MSG on Thursday. Brunson calls the game "very important" as the Heat sit two games ahead of New York for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

But Brunson knows it won't be easy, and it'll take a team effort to win.

"They have great personnel, a culture that they talk about all the time," Brunson said of the Heat after Tuesday's game. "They're going to come in and play hard. We have to match their energy and pick it up on the defensive end. On the offensive end we're scoring a lot of points, defensively is where we have to pick it up."


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