On the eve of the Knicks’ home opener in December, swingman RJ Barrett put a positive spin on playing at a fan-less Garden.
The No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft figured sometimes Knicks opponents got up to play before a Garden crowd and it had an adverse affect.
“Actually having no fans might be an advantage,” Barrett said on Dec. 26. “I know if I was a competitor, coming into the Garden, with all those fans, I’d want to have a great game. So coming in there with no fans actually probably gives us an advantage that way, too.”
It has played out that way. The Knicks are 8-6 in their 14 crowd-less Garden games. Their Tuesday tilt vs. Golden State starts a new version of their home schedule as 2,000 fans will be permitted inside. And some of them could cheer and swoon for arguably the game’s most popular player, Stephen Curry.
However, Barrett has changed his tune. He didn’t like the emptiness despite the Knicks’ winning record at the Garden, highlighting a season that’s gone way better than expected. The Knicks are 15-16 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Barrett even alluded to missing the old Garden jeers.
“I’m just happy to have the fans back, honestly,” Barrett said when reminded of his December comments. “Been missing them. It’s been great playing at home but nothing compares to when you have the fans back there in the Garden so I’m really excited for that.”
“I think it’s a little different in terms of homecourt advantage,” Barrett added. “There’s no fans. You’re really just playing basketball. I’ve kind of gotten used to it but at the end of the day, playing basketball, you want fans. You want to hear cheering, you want to hear the boos. All that.”
The Garden will be only 10 percent full Tuesday, so it’s unclear how much noise they can make in an arena with a capacity of 19,040. Figure that the fake cheers that have been pumped in during the 14 Garden games might be secretly giving the small crowd an assistance.
“I think it means a lot to New York,” Barrett said. “It means a tremendous amount for us, to give us that extra boost. I miss that joy and happiness of just having the fans there cheering.”
Barrett led the NBA in minutes in January but Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has scaled him back, particularly after the Derrick Rose trade. In the last seven games, he’s averaging 26.7 minutes. The Knicks are 4-3 in that span.
In the first 24 games, Barrett was averaging 35.1 minutes.
“It’s been great,” Barrett said. “Whatever the team needs. Whatever the team needs it’s all good. It’s been working out for us lately so I’m very happy.”
Julius Randle, hours away from potentially being named as an All-Star via the coach’s vote for reserves, has given assistant coach Kenny Payne some credit for his career year. They were together in Kentucky and Randle said he tried to sway him to come. The Post has reported Payne initially turned down the Knicks’ overtures.
“Yeah I definitely tried to convince him,” Randle said. “I for sure was excited when I heard it was a possibility. That’s my guy – nobody better to have in your corner than him. It’s definitely been a great great thing for me, him coming here. The relationship I have with him is amazing. It’s been good.”