The New York Knicks wing’s 23 points on an efficient 8-of-14 shooting was swept under the rug by a rugged, physical Serbian team that played harder by controlling the boards (33-22) and dominating the paint (46-32) to advance to the gold medal game.
“No, [we’re] not surprised,” Barrett said of Serbia’s physicality. “I think we did a good job of scouting [them] going in. We knew they were going to be physical. So it was just not surprising at all.”
“It was a fun game to be a part of, even though we lost. [To] Just been able to gain this experience. Like my coach said, we have one more [game]. We gotta go win this one and leave here with a medal.”
Canada will aim for the bronze on Sunday, which could represent their first-ever medal finish in the FIBA World Cup history.
Stacked with NBA players led by Gilgeous-Alexander and Barrett, this was Canada’s best opportunity to go all the way. But Serbia’s physicality and experience stood in their way.
Serbia took Gilgeous-Alexander away early with foul trouble. He finished with only 15 points on eight shots.
Barrett rounded up his solid play with three rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Atlanta Hawks shooter Bogdan Bognadovic led Serbia with 23 points, while Nikola Milutinov anchored their inside game with a double-double (16 points and 10 rebounds). The duo served as Serbian’s inside-outside tandem in lieu of NBA two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and 2021 Euroleague MVP Vasilije Micić, who both skipped the tournament.
Refusing to Play Blame Game
Trailing by double-digits most of the way, Canada pulled within seven points several times in the third quarter– first after Barrett’s defensive rebound led to a Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s 3-pointer that made it 57-50 with 5:23 left.
But every time they came within seven, Serbia had an answer with timely hits and trips to the free-throw line.
A reporter brought to Canada coach Jordi Fernandez and Barrett’s attention that they were hit with more fouls in the first three quarters than any of their previous games in the tournament. But they refused to play the blame game.
“We were so close to making a run and we stayed right there and right there. And the reality is, we couldn’t get to stop, so that’s going to be our focus. The officials will never be our focus. We’re gonna go fight really hard,” Fernandez said.
“They played hard,” Barrett added. “I think we played hard as well. Like coach [Jordi Fernandez] said, our defense could have been way better as our defense has normally been really good throughout this tournament.”
Serbia shot 62% from the field, including 71% from the 2-point range against Canada’s porous defense.
Ultimately, it was the difference-maker in the high-stakes game.
RJ Barrett’s Father Reflects on Son’s Knicks Journey
Canada Basketball general manager and former Olympian Rowan Barrett Sr. dished out on his son RJ’s NBA career ahead of their semifinal clash with Serbia.
“He’s put on some weight to be able to take the rigors, and also, the city you’re playing can impact what’s happening like New York is not an easy market,” Barrett Sr. told Sportsnet Canada’s Arash Madani.
“They’ll get at you. So, his resilience is one I’m very proud of as a father, like ‘no matter what you’re throwing at me, I’m gonna keep coming at you.’ I like that,” Barrett Sr. continued.
Barrett is entering the first year of his four-year, $107 million extension next season. With an entire season of adjustment playing alongside new backcourt leader Jalen Brunson under his belt, more is expected from Barrett next season.
“I feel good about what I’m seeing with him. I think he’s still young. And I think there’s still growth to be made. And I like that he’s not satisfied,” Barrett Sr. said of his son.