RJ Barrett can’t imagine not taking another trip to Atlanta for a Game 6 on Friday.
Trailing the Hawks 3-1 in their first-round series, the Knicks second-year wing was asked how he’d judge this season if they can’t get out of the first round.
An edgy Barrett didn’t want to hear any of it after Wednesday’s morning shootaround ahead of Game 5 at the Garden.
“Why you got to be so negative?” Barrett said. “I ain’t thinking about that. We’re winning tonight. I ain’t thinking about that. C’mon, bro. Stupid-ass question.”
Indeed, the Knicks seem to be in a combative spirit — a good sign. They’ll need everything they can muster. No Knicks team has ever come back from a 1-3 deficit in 13 tries. Atlanta center Clint Capela said the Hawks are in New York “to put the Knicks on vacation.”
Even if the Knicks can get back to Atlanta, it stands to be one final night of magical basketball at The Mecca.
Taj Gibson said, win or lose, this first-round series was a beautiful thing for the franchise.
“Have you seen the crowd and emotions around the city — it shows the love,” Gibson said. “I’ve been around a long time in some really loud places. The atmosphere in the Garden, atmosphere around the city, people constantly encouraging you about the game.
“You go down and get a bagel or cup of coffee, everybody is giving us praise about what we’re doing in changing the culture. The city is paying attention but we don’t feel we’re done yet. Right now it’s a starting block to what the team wants to do and what organization wants to do as a whole.”
Entering Game 5, the Knicks had little momentum. In the two blowout losses in Atlanta, the Hawks scored 116 points per 100 possessions and drained 47 percent of their 3s. But with the Garden crowd as fuel, the Knicks expect a different club, a team that led the NBA in opponent scoring average and 3-point FG defense.
“Very locked in, very confident,’’ Barrett said. “(We) had a couple of days to prepare. We have to bring even more fight. X’s and O’s are cool but we really got to play hard. We have to bring the fight to them.’’
Star Julius Randle has struggled and Barrett, the team’s second option, has had only one productive outing entering Wednesday. He scored 21 points in the Game 4 loss, finally finding his range on his corner 3-pointers. For the series, Barrett is averaging 13.8 points but is shooting 39.7 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.
“It’s just bringing the fight to them,’’ Barrett said. “Normally the hungrier team wins. That’s what we got to be. We can’t win them at all at once. We got to go quarter by quarter, possession by possession.’’
Gibson has the most playoff experience on the Knicks but says he’s been easy with his advice, wanting the young guys to experience this without a filter.
“You can’t tell them too much,’’ Gibson said. “The younger, they want to get out and get a feel for themselves. Our guys kind of understand it now. The mental part is more important than the physical part. You got to know the plays, the same sets. Our young guys are on a learning curve and it’s good for them. It’s helping them grow day by day.’’