RJ Barrett led Canadaâ€™s big second-half surge to open their Olympic quest with a 97-91 win over Greece Tuesday in Victoria, B.C.
The New York Knicksâ€™ vastly improved wing poured 19 points in the second half, including 12 in the final quarter.
A Barrett three-point play with 4:22 left gave the Canadians a 12-point spread, 91-79. But the hard-fighting Greeks who missed Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo came within four with under a minute left.
RJ Barrett now leads all scorers with 20 pts after this strong left hand finish and a bonus FT! pic.twitter.com/HjMUft4jZ3
â€” alder almo (@alderalmo) June 30, 2021
Barrett hit two clutch free throws with 34.5 seconds left that sealed their opening victory in one of the four Olympic Qualifiers.
Barrett, whoÂ celebrated his 21st birthday in quarantine while training for this tournament, finished with 22 points. He shot 8-of-14 from the field though he missed five of six three-point attempts. A much-improved free throw shooter this season in the NBA, Barrett went 5-for-7 from the line. He also had five rebounds and three assists in almost 30 minutes of play.
Rick Pitino, a former Knicks coach who is now mentoring the Greeksâ€™ Olympics quest, was left impressed.
“RJ Barrett in college couldn’t really shoot a 12-foot shot and I absolutely love players that work at their game and get better… I’m obviously a big Knicks fan so I’m a big RJ fan, but the fact that he’s improved so much is amazing to me,â€ Pitino said in the postgame, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports.
Barrett was tentative in the first half, feeling his way with this newly-formed Canadian team filled with NBA players.
Golden State Warriorsâ€™ Andrew Wiggins led all scorers with 23 points while New Orleans Pelicansâ€™ guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 18, doing most of the damage in the first half.
Barrett took over in the second half repeatedly attacking the rim.
“It was kind of everywhere, but we did a good job of figuring it out,â€ Barrett said.
Five Greeks scored in double figures led by Konstantinos Mitoglou but it was not enough. Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannisâ€™ younger brother who is a two-way player for the Los Angeles Lakers, scored four points in limited action off the bench.
Barrett will try to lead Canada to a sweep of their group against China tomorrow to advance to the semifinals.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo