Knicks use balanced effort to clip Pacers in gritty road win

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The Knicks left their shooting woes in 2020, carried over a strong defense and found their finishing touch.

Coming off a brutal shooting night on New Year’s Eve against the Raptors in Tampa, the Knicks bounced back and leaned on their defense late to close out the Pacers for a 106-102 win Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

After briefly losing the lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Knicks (3-3) used an 11-0 stretch and finished the game on a 13-6 run to secure the win.

RJ Barrett, who was among the chief culprits during a cold shooting night Thursday, rediscovered his groove and led the way with 25 points. Julius Randle shook off a rough start Saturday — he was held scoreless until the final minute of the first half — and finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Randle’s defense on Domantas Sabonis, Mitchell Robinson’s big night (16 points, nine rebounds) and an aggressive Elfrid Payton (19 points) helped the Knicks dominate the Pacers (4-2) in the paint, outscoring them 56-26.

After shooting a brutal 3-for-36 from beyond the arc in Thursday’s loss, the Knicks started Saturday’s game 3-for-4 from deep and finished 12-for-27.

Barrett drained the first 3 he took to give the Knicks a 19-17 lead with 4:30 left in the first quarter, snapping a skid of 21 straight misses from beyond the arc over his previous four games. He made it 2-for-2 minutes later, picking up where he left off in Indiana after shooting 3-for-3 from deep in the season opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Barrett had missed 21 straight 3-pointers since the first game in Indiana, including an 0-for-8 showing Thursday. The second-year guard spent an hour after that game putting up more shots, and it appeared to help snap him out of his funk — he finished Saturday shooting 4-for-5 from 3.

But Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon (33 points) was even hotter out of the gates, shooting 4-for-4 from 3 and 6-for-6 from the floor during the first quarter. He dropped 17 points in the first 12 minutes alone to give the Pacers a 28-26 lead heading into the second quarter.

Immanuel Quickley, playing for the first time since leaving the season opener with a hip pointer, made an instant impact coming off the bench. The rookie guard showed a knack for driving to the rim and drawing fouls, scoring seven points in nine minutes during the first half.

Though Randle didn’t score until sinking a layup with 43 seconds left in the first half — after starting 0-for-6 with four turnovers and four assists — Robinson helped pick up the slack. The center was active around the rim, cleaning up offensive rebounds and going 6-for-6 for 12 points in the first half.

But Victor Oladipo scored the Pacers’ final eight points of the half, all from the free-throw line, to send them into the break with a 51-50 lead over the Knicks.

The Knicks came out strong to start the third quarter, though, as Randle’s first 3 and a Payton drive pushed their lead to 63-56 and forced a Pacers timeout.

After the Knicks’ 10-point lead was quickly cut to two, Payton continued to be aggressive and converted a pair of and-ones to push it back to 72-65. But minutes later, a lazy turnover from Payton gave way to an easy Pacers layup that cut the Knicks’ lead to 75-73.

Former Knick Justin Holiday drained a wide open corner 3 in the final second of the third quarter to tie the game at 82 heading to the fourth.

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