Former Knicks Rival Jalen Rose Comes to the Defense of RJ Barrett

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

Getty RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks drives against Kyle Lowry #7 and Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat.

New York Knicks starting wing RJ Barrett is the only top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA draft left standing in this year’s NBA playoffs.

Barrett drew flak for his poor start in the first round against 2019 fifth-overall pick Darius Garland and the Cleveland Cavaliers that ESPN’s First Take commentator and lifelong Knicks fan Stephen A. Smith suggested he should be benched. But Barrett bounced back strong and had the last laugh, eliminating Garland in Cleveland in five games.

Jalen Rose, who beat the Knicks two out of three times in the playoffs at the peak of his career with the Indiana Pacers during the late 90s, defended Barrett.

“I’m going with the Knicks [against the Miami Heat] because so many different players have shown that they can be productive. Let’s start with RJ Barrett, who started his career drafted by the Knicks, and when you get drafted behind Zion [Williamson] and Ja Morant, it’s easy to get overlooked, but I appreciate it’s all about basketball with him. It’s not about his nightlife. It’s not about who he’s dating. He keeps working on his game. He played well. He’s a great contributor,” Rose said on the May 3 episode of NBA Today on ESPN.

Rose has become a Knicks believer after he wrongly picked the Cavaliers to win their opening-round matchup. And Barrett had a big hand in that.

Over his last five games, dating back to Game 3 against the Cavaliers, Barrett has averaged 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 52.5% from the field and 36.7% from deep.

It was a remarkable turnaround from his poor numbers — 10.5 points on 24.0% field goal shooting and 12.5% from deep, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists — in Games 1 and 2 in the Cleveland series.

Tom Thibodeau Benched RJ Barrett Down the Stretch

Despite Barrett’s offensive explosion, his defense left much to be desired as New York coach Tom Thibodeau benched him in the final seven minutes of the Knicks’ crucial Game 2 win against the Heat.

Thibodeau said it was a “tough decision” to bench Barrett, who scored 24 points on 8-of-17 shots, three rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes.

Barrett took the benching in stride and even praised Josh Hart, who replaced him in the closing lineup in the Game 2 victory.

Knicks’ Home Away From Home

The Knicks are heading to Miami, where they can neutralize the Heat’s homecourt advantage in Games 3 and 4.

“[The] Knicks fans, they show up wherever we play, “Josh Hart told reporters following Thursday’s practice. “Whether that’s in Oklahoma City or gotta be down to Miami at the end of the year. We’re having ‘Let’s go Knicks’ chants. You know what I mean? So I think it’s the camaraderie that we have been able to be locked into focus, and the next is the Knicks fanatics traveling and chilling out.”

The Knicks do not even have to count on their fans traveling because many of them already reside in the Sunshine State. According to the Census Bureau, New York tops the migration list to Florida, with 63,722 New Yorkers moving there since at least 2016.

The Heat players appealed to their fans to show up and neutralize the expected thousands of Knicks fans who will attend Games 3 and 4.

Game 3 is scheduled for Saturday, May 6 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

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