Finally-healthy RJ Barrett breaks out for Knicks with career night

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Tom Thibodeau appeared to push all the right buttons before the start of the Knicks’ crucial three-game road trip.

After suffering an embarrassing home loss to the Nuggets on Saturday, the team’s third straight defeat, Thibodeau not-so-subtly hinted that the struggling RJ Barrett needed to get back into the gym and work on his shot after Barrett made just one of his seven three-point attempts in the lopsided loss to Denver, dropping his 3-point percentage to just 22.4 percent over the last 13 games.

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Barrett responded in a massive way on Tuesday, knocking down the first five threes he saw while finishing 7-for-8 from downtown in a career night that ended with 32 points in a much-needed victory, and a much-needed hot shooting night for Barrett.

“I think the defense was really focused on Julius [Randle] a lot,” Barrett said. “And we just moved it, and I was able to knock them down.”

For Barrett, Tuesday’s breakout was about more than just finding open looks. He had missed plenty of those in recent games, but after battling a stomach bug, Barrett feels like he finally has his legs back under him, and it showed in San Antonio.

“He’s feeling better, so we’ll start with that,” Thibodeau said. “He was knocked down pretty good and not feeling well, but he’s bac in the gym, he’s putting a lot of extra work in, and he’s grooving his shot. When he’s grooving his shot, we know he’s gonna make it. It’s that simple.”

Barrett missed practice early last week because of the stomach issue, and lasted just seven minutes in the following game against the Nets. He then missed all of Thursday’s game against the Bulls before struggling through Saturday’s loss to Denver.

“That game, I was done,” Barrett said of last week’s loss to Brooklyn. “I was throwing up that game. After Atlanta, that’s where it started, and that’s where I was just throwing up, it was multiple days.”

Barrett’s illness certainly didn’t help his efforts to get his shooting stroke back on track, but as he regained his strength, he was able to put in more work in the gym, which Thibodeau was pointing out after the Denver debacle.

“I was really down for a couple weeks, but just feeling better now,” Barrett said. “Getting back in the gym was great, and to have a game like [Tuesday], it felt really good. Hopefully it can carry into [Wednesday].

“I think you get into a rhythm by your routine, and when your routine is a little off, you just try and figure it out.”

It was certainly a rough stretch for Barrett, who is crucial to the Knicks offense, but he was back at his best on Tuesday, and hopes the illness, and his shooting woes, are finally behind him.

“It was annoying,” Barrett said of his stomach bug. “I tried to do my job to the best of my ability to matter what. But like I said, I’m feeling a lot better now.”

Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1

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