RJ Barrett, a swingman for the New York Knicks, sat behind a table in a small room at the Kaseya Center late on Friday night after the Miami Heat eliminated his club from the playoffs. He was reading the box score of the 96-92 defeat that will follow him all season.
Not only were his Knicks returning home after making history by reaching the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in ten years, but there was more to it than that. He went just 1-for-10 when his team most needed him, and he couldn’t believe it.
After a few moments, Barrett finally mustered up one word that described how he felt: “Wow. I played terrible,” he said moments later. “I’m very disappointed in how I played today. It’s a lot right now. You fight for something, you want something so bad — I don’t feel like I played my best, so it hurts, but it’s good to have experiences like these, you can learn from them. [The Heat] are a very good team, very experienced, very poised, so we can learn from that.”
However, the reality of Friday’s performance “stings a little bit,” according to guard Jalen Brunson, who added that the Knicks should take comfort in the fact that they developed as a team this season.
Two nights after playing all 48 minutes in a victory in Game 5, Brunson, who had a game-high 41 points in 45 minutes, may take comfort in the fact that he gave it his all to help his team win. The remaining starters for the Knicks combined to shoot just 5-for-32 from the field after Brunson’s 14-for-22 performance.
Even though coach Tom Thibodeau and the rest of his team were upset with the outcome of the series, the Knicks remain optimistic that they can develop from the mistakes they made against the Heat in the future.
“A lot of good moments, a lot of moments of growth,” Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle said, while summing up his season. “Things we should be proud of and things that we can learn from as well. I think we’ll all take time to reevaluate everything and figure out what we can do better to move forward.”
Randle missed the final two weeks of the regular season due to a sore left ankle, and after aggravating the condition in the first-round victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the series, he was compelled to miss Game 1 of the Heat series. Game 6 only served to highlight some of the difficulties he’s encountered in the Knicks’ previous two postseason runs. He played inconsistently throughout this postseason after suffering in a 2021 first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It culminated in a 3-for-14 effort on Friday night.
Thibodeau defended Randle while attempting to explain how all of his starters save Brunson could struggle so much offensively. Randle acknowledged being “obviously disappointed” at the way the season ended.
“Julius is still young,” Thibodeau said. “He’s going into his prime right now.”
Thibodeau added that despite his disappointment with the outcome, he was proud of Brunson for consistently giving the team everything he had while leading the offense for the majority of the postseason run.
“When you dig into it, he’s one of the best players in the league,” Thibodeau said of Brunson. “He shows that every night that he goes out there. The Heat are a terrific defensive team, and to be able to do what he’s doing is a credit to him and the way he works … he’s young, he’s going to continue to get better and better. He was terrific last season in the playoffs, he was terrific this season, he’s always had that ability. And he’s never satisfied, and that’s what I respect about him.”
Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s head coach, respected Brunson as well.
“How’s that dude not an All-Star or All-NBA?” Spoelstra said. “He should be on one of those teams. I wish he was still out West. But man, you gotta respect him as a competitor. He’s like a lot of the guys in our locker room. He’s got an iron will. There’s something about these Villanova guys. … He’s just an incredible competitor.”
Brunson reaffirmed how pleased he was to be in New York City and how “excited” he is about the next season as the Knicks enter the summer.
“We have a lot to prove to each other as teammates and we got to use this as we move forward,” Brunson said. “But New York, this is a great year for us … but keep working on your game, keep getting confidence as a player and as teammates as we move forward. Everybody’s got to keep sticking together like we did this year.”
Barrett remarked, “We’re going to sit with this one a little bit,” “Figure it out and come back stronger next year.”