Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett Downplay Heated Argument During Knicks Win: ‘We’re Brothers’

RJ Barrett Obi Toppim

Getty RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin of the New York Knicks converse during a bout with the Detroit Pistons.

The heated argument between RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin nearly overshadowed Jalen Brunson’s career game that propelled the New York Knicks to a 130-116 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night.

Barrett and Toppin had to be separated by Knicks coaches before it escalated into a full-blown altercation during a timeout huddle. The Knicks were leading by three, 86-83, in the third quarter when it happened. But they quickly patched things up before the play resumed.

Toppin downplayed the public spat after the game.

“We’re brothers,” Toppin said, “and we’re good. We discussed it.”

Barrett agreed.

“We’re good. We see each other basically every day,” Barrett said. “You tell me that you haven’t had an argument with a family member before. You know what I’m saying? You had an argument with a family member before. That was all it was. Right after the timeout, we squashed it. I think he scored six straight points after that, so something worked.”

While Toppin and Barrett kept mum on what they said during the huddle, the argument stemmed from a botched fastbreak play before the timeout.

Barrett missed Toppin, who was open for an alley-oop dunk. The 3-on-2 transition play ended in a missed jumper by Quentin Grimes.

Heat of the Moment

New York coach Tom Thibodeau, who stood in the middle of the ugly confrontation, brushed off the incident as just heat of the moment.

“The cameras are everywhere. It probably happens more than people realize,” Thibodeau said during his postgame interview. “Heat of the moment. It dissipated immediately. If there’s a flare-up, go talk to each other. When they walked out together, I knew they were fine.”

“And just move on. Win the game. When everyone wants to win, sometimes there’s a difference of opinion. Just put the team first, and that’s what they did.”

Toppin was fired up after that and pumped six points while Barrett added a layup as the Knicks extended their lead to seven, 101-94 before the Cavaliers closed the gap at 105-102 at the end of the third quarter.

It was not the first time this season that Toppin was caught in the heat of the moment.

In November, he also had a public spat with Knicks assistant coach Rick Brunson, Jalen’s father, during a come-from-behind win.

Frustrating Season

Toppin started in place of injured Julius Randle for his first start of the season. He wound up with 12 points and only one rebound in 18 minutes as he rode the bench for the entire fourth quarter. He registered a team-worst minus-4.

It was emblematic of a frustrating third season for the former lottery pick.

Buried behind Randle, who recaptured his All-Star form before going down with an ill-timed ankle injury, Toppin failed to follow through on his strong finish last season.

Toppin is only averaging 6.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14.4 minutes.

The high-flying Toppin put up huge numbers — 20.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists — in 10 games without Randle last season. He was even better when the Knicks decided to shut down Randle in the last five regular-season games. During that span, Toppin averaged 27.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists, highlighted by a career-high 42-point, 10-rebound performance in their final match. But his explosion came in meaningless games as Knicks were already out of playoff contention.

His limited role has shrunk his value while most of his 2020 Draft classmates in the first round, including his teammate and closest friend, Immanuel Quickley (25th overall), have flourished in more prominent roles.

Toppin is extension-eligible this summer, but given his lack of a defined role, he will likely play out his rookie contract and become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2024 unless he gets traded.

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