Back to .500: RJ Barrett’s clutch 3 lifts Knicks past Raptors

The stinker he put up on New Year’s eve in Tampa, Florida, against his home team Toronto Raptors, wasn’t lost on RJ Barrett.

The 20-year old Canadian wing went 0-for-8 from deep in that 100-83 New York Knicks‘ loss. It was the tail end of a horrendous four-game stretch where he missed 21 straight three-point attempts.

On Sunday night, Barrett got his redemption and, more importantly, a 102-96 victory at The Garden that pushed the Knicks back to .500.

In what is becoming a signature Barrett clutch basket, the second-year forward drilled a catch-and-shoot three off a Julius Randle feed with 34.9 seconds left.

The dagger three, his third for the night, gave the Knicks’ a four-point cushion to fend off the Raptors’ ferocious fightback in the second half.

“I think what I’ve learned over the course of my NBA career is that it is a long game. Anything can happen,” Barrett said. “Everybody goes on a run. The game goes up and down. All that matters is the way you had it in the end when the final buzzer sounds.”

The Knicks blew an 18-point lead and trailed the Raptors by four in the fourth quarter.

Toronto went on a big run after a 14-minute rain delay due to a leak from the Madison Square Garden ceiling in the third quarter. The momentum shifted to the Raptors’ side when the game resumed with 3:58 left in the quarter. A Toronto 10-2 run closed the gap after three quarters, 78-76.

Japanese forward Yuta Watanabe’s drive gave the Raptors their first lead of the game just two minutes into the final quarter, 81-80. Rodney Hood extended Toronto’s lead to four, 87-83, but the Knicks refused to wilt under pressure.

New York responded with a 9-0 run to grab a 92-87 lead behind Barrett, Randle, and Alec Burks.

Kyle Lowry kept the Raptors within one, 95-94, that set up Barrett’s heroics.

The dagger three capped off another efficient night for Barrett, who finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 3-for-6 from deep.

Randle, who brought back his braids, sealed the outcome with four free throws after the Barrett triple extended the Knicks’ lead to four, 98-94.

The All-Star forward was perfect from the line, going 11-for-11, to pace the Knicks with 26 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.

“I like that we had the mental toughness to sort of work our way through it and pull it out in the end,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I think we’re capable of playing better than what we did today.”

The Knicks will have that opportunity to prove Thibodeau right when they play the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night, the second game of a back-to-back homestand.

The Lakers, who are missing their top guns, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, relied on Andre Drummond’s double-double to dominate the Brooklyn Nets last Saturday night.

Nerlens Noel, who had a big game against the Raptors, will have his hands full against Drummond, who was initially a Knicks target in the buyout market.

Noel seems up to the task after he came up big for the Knicks, grabbing a season-high 13 rebounds to go along with nine points and four shot blocks. He had five offensive rebounds that equaled the entire Raptors team’s output.

The Knicks’ 11-5 advantage in the offensive rebounding led to 17 second-chance points. The Raptors only had six.

New York’s vaunted defense held Toronto to just 39.8 percent shooting, including just 9-of-35 from the three-point line, 24 hours after the Raptors exploded for 135 points against Cleveland on 17-of-32 three-point shooting.

The Knicks (27-27) won for the second time in a row after a rough stretch that saw them losing five of their previous six games. It was also their first win against the Raptors since 2017. The timing couldn’t have come at a better time as the win gave the Knicks, currently eighth in the East, a six-game buffer over the No. 11 Raptors (21-33).

The seventh to 10th teams will battle for the last two playoff spots in each conference in a play-in tournament.

With 18 games left in their schedule, the Knicks are just one game outside the top six in the bunched-up East.

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