NEW YORK (AP)Five nights after sending them into a frenzy with his first buzzer beater, RJ Barrett had Knicks fans chanting his name.
Julius Randle wasn’t feeling the same love on another rough night at Madison Square Garden.
Barrett scored 31 points in his first home game since his game winner, leading New York to a 111-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.
He had 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the second half, with fans not only chanting his name but even ”MVP! MVP!”
”It’s a big thing for sure, but also I just feel like my work is starting to show,” Barrett said. ”And I feel like my teammates and I, we’re really giving everything we’ve got out there on the court. So not even just for me, just to show that our team is playing well.”
Evan Fournier returned from a one-game absence with 18 points for the Knicks, who broke open a game that had been close by outscoring the Spurs 18-2 to start the fourth quarter.
Barrett had five straight points to open the final period, which started with the Knicks ahead just 82-75. By the time the Knicks hit three consecutive 3-pointers to end their spurt, it was 100-77,
Barrett banked in a 3-pointer last Thursday to give the Knicks a 108-105 victory over Boston. Fournier scored a career-high 41 points in that game, but missed the Knicks’ loss in Boston on Saturday in the back end of the home-and-home with a bruised left thigh.
The Knicks won for the third time in four games to reach the midpoint of their schedule at 20-21.
”I think we have a positive mindset because we are playing better,” Fournier said. ”I have confidence and I have faith in what we can accomplish.”
Randle was an All-Star last season, but his dip this season has frustrated fans. Randle gave the crowd a thumbs down during the victory over Boston on Thursday – and was later fined $25,000 by the NBA for using profanity when explaining he was telling them to shut up.
Randle shot 1 for 7 for two points, though did grab 12 rebounds and was praised by his team for moving the ball well when double-teamed. The boos were noticeable when he shot an airball and later committed a turnover, as were the ”Obi Toppin! Obi Toppin!” chants from fans that were calling for Randle’s backup to replace him.
”Look, he’s a pro. He’ll navigate through it,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau said he’s talked to the Knicks about not getting wrapped up in praise or criticism from fans.
”The important thing is to lock into the team, your job, the next day, winning, your opponent,” Thibodeau said. ”Get ready to go so you can play well. And look, when we play well, we know how much our fans love this team and we love them.”
Dejounte Murray scored 24 points for the Spurs, who had six players sidelined by health and safety protocols and finished a 1-6 road trip. Jakob Poeltl had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
”Overall I’m thrilled with tonight. We played hard for three quarters, we hung in,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ”Under the circumstances, I couldn’t really expect much more. I wanted more, but it would be silly to expect more.”
Neither team led by more than eight in the first half, which ended with the Knicks leading 51-49 after Barrett’s strong finish.
He helped them finally build a double-digit cushion in the third. Barrett had a basket, converted a three-point play and found Quentin Grimes for a jumper as the Knicks extended a four-point edge to 78-67.
Spurs: Besides their six players in health and safety protocols, the Spurs were also missing center Jock Landale because of back spasms. … Lonnie Walker IV scored 15 points.
Knicks: Kemba Walker missed his sixth straight game with a sore left knee and Nerlens Noel missed his 10th in a row as he regains his conditioning after being in health and safety protocols. Thibodeau said both are close to returning.
The Knicks held a moment of silence before the game for the 17 people killed, including eight children, Sunday after a fire in a 19-story building in the Bronx. Fans cheered when the team also thanked the first responders who were on the scene in the city’s deadliest blaze in more than three decades.
Spurs: Host Houston on Wednesday.
Knicks: Host Dallas on Wednesday.