Knicks’ RJ Barrett finds rhythm late in tough OT loss to Raptors: ‘He’s back!’

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
Jan 16, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) dunks the ball against Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

RJ Barrett threw down a coast-to-coast monster slam that sent the New York Knicks-Toronto Raptors game into overtime Monday afternoon as if to announce he’s back after an uneven four games since his return from a finger injury.

Barrett’s second-half performance was a silver lining in the Knicks’ heartbreaking 123-121 overtime loss to the Raptors.

The 22-year-old Barrett bucked another slow start to produce 32 points in 49 minutes. After going 3 for 11 in the first half, Barrett found his rhythm after the halftime break. He hit 7 of 12 shots in the second half and extra time that kept the Knicks within a play away from stealing the win.

Too bad, Jalen Brunson, the Knicks’ best player in the clutch, clanked a three-pointer at the buzzer. He felt bad for not winning the game after Barrett’s overtime-sending dunk at the end of the regulation.

“[Barrett’s] back, he’s back! He’s worked really hard to get back into rhythm. I think this is his ‘I’m-back-in-a-rhythm game’ so I’m just excited about how he played [Monday]. I wish we could’ve brought home a win for him because he played great, and he deserved it.”

Jalen Brunson via SNY

Barrett entered the Martin Luther King’s Day game with a declining scoring production (27 points vs Pacers, 17 points vs Wizards, and 13 points vs Pistons) since his return from the injury that forced him to miss six games.

His 28.6 three-point percentage is way below his 42.4 percent mark in a scorching hot December. But in the second half against his hometown team Raptors, Barrett aggressively attacked the paint and went 3 for 4 around the rim.

Not even Scottie Barnes’ left arm could stop Barrett from shaking the sold-out Madison Square Garden to its core in the final Knicks possession in the regulation.

“At that point in time, the refs aren’t really going to call a foul. So just got to go strong. Don’t really matter who’s there.”

RJ Barrett via SNY

New York coach Tom Thibodeau rued the inconsistent officiating that gave the Raptors 41 free throw attempts, six more than they had.

“It’s hard to tell what a foul was.”

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

But they also shot themselves in the foot by missing four free throws down the stretch, one each from Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

Those missed free throws could have softened the impact of the non-foul on Barrett’s dunk.

But despite the loss, Thibodeau was proud of his team’s effort playing on the second day of back-to-back matinee games.

And getting Barrett, who’s playing dual roles — starting wing and essentially the 10th man in the second unit — into rhythm was a welcome development.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo