RJ Barrett played with a fire and an aggressiveness that signaled the Knicks’ game Friday night in Toronto meant a little bit more than most.
But the energy was spoiled by an ending that didn’t go his way.
The swingman, playing in front of approximately 1,000 of his family and friends in his hometown, was freed up with six-tenths of a second left and the Knicks trailing by three, rolling to the ball on an inbounds pass. He caught it as he turned, then rose and released a shot.
“Definitely a great look for what we had on the clock,” Barrett said after the Knicks’ 90-87 loss, in which his would-be game-tying shot came up short, bouncing off the side of the rim.
Barrett attacked often and tried to get his offensive game going — to mixed results — in his second time playing at Scotiabank Arena, where he grew up attending games and visiting locker rooms when he was known as Rowan Barrett’s kid.
Rowan, a St. John’s grad, played for Team Canada, and RJ played for the national team this summer. The country remembered and gave him a nice hand when he was introduced — and his loved ones showed up in droves.
“A lot of that was my church growing up — my whole church was here,” Barrett said about the enormous cheering section, which MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow numbering about 1,000. “That was just amazing to have their support.
“I’m from here, man.”
The family and church after-party could have been much wilder if a few more of his deep tries — especially his last — had fallen.
Too many of his shots rimmed out in a 5-for-16, 19-point performance in which he was active and knocked down seven from the foul line. Barrett finished 2-for-7 from 3-point range, continuing his up-and-down season that has been mostly down of late.
Still, in the game’s biggest moments, he wanted the ball. The No. 3-overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft came alive in the fourth quarter, when his 3-pointer with 2:48 left brought the Knicks within three, and he followed it up less than a minute later by sinking a high-arcing floater from the baseline.
It looked as if he wanted one more shot, slicing into the lane in the closing seconds, but the Raptors collapsed on him and he kicked to Julius Randle, whose 3-point attempt was off the mark with 3.2 seconds to go.
“We got a phenomenal shot,” Barrett said after a game in which the Knicks missed too many jumpers, shooting 35.8 percent.
Barrett played in Toronto once in 2019, but Friday was the first time since the pandemic hit that he took the court in front of fans in the country for which he was the top prospect of his senior class, before spending a season at Duke.
It has been a strange third season for Barrett, who was electric in October, struggled mightily in November and has begun to bounce back this month. He has shown flashes of taking the leap into stardom, but he has not been consistent enough to fully make his case.
It would have been nice if his home country had witnessed his breakout.
“I always remember it being loud and being fun in here as a kid,” Barrett said. “I kind of know the arena, so it’s a little different, but a lot of fun.”