Knicks' RJ Barrett says no fans at Madison Square Garden 'might be an advantage'

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Ian Begley
·3 min read
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RJ Barrett drives the lane against Pacers
RJ Barrett drives the lane against Pacers

Over the years, coaches and players have said that some teams/players want to play their best at Madison Square Garden.

The Garden – and nearly all other NBA arenas – won’t have fans in the stands this season.

So maybe opponents won’t have the same motivation to put on a performance at the Garden?

RJ Barrett thinks that may be the case this season. He said on Saturday that not having fans at the arena may be an advantage for the Knicks because teams won’t have the added motivation of playing well in an energized arena.

“Actually having no fans might be an advantage. I know if I was a competitor coming into the Garden with all those fans, I’d want to have a great game,” Barrett said hours before the Knicks’ home opener against Philadelphia. “So coming in there with no fans actually probably gives us an advantage that way too. It’s just you have to go out there and play basketball.”

Opposing players and coaches have talked regularly about wanting to perform well at Madison Square Garden. LeBron James has said publicly that he loves playing at the arena. In 2017, he posted a picture of himself on the Garden floor after a win over the Knicks and called the Garden his "favorite playground."

So Barrett has a point. To be clear, Barrett also loves playing at the Garden. So his point shouldn’t be taken as an insult to fans.

“Best place to play at in my humble opinion. Just gotta protect home court. Gotta protect home court. Anybody that comes into New York. We’ve got to defend what’s ours.”

Of course, opponents haven’t played the best competition over the past 20 years at the Garden. New York has won just one playoff series in that span. So that’s made it easier to put on a show at The World’s Most Famous arena.

The Knicks are in the early stages of a rebuild this season. They dropped their first game to Indiana and face a tough Sixers team on Saturday night. Will Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons & Co. have the same motivation to perform well at MSG than they’ve had in years past with no fans in the building? We’ll find out.

Later in his interview on Saturday, Barrett noted that all NBA teams will have to adjust to playing in front of (mostly) empty arenas this season.

“I think in any arena with no fans it might be tough for people to get up and play. Because we’ve all played with fans our whole lives,” he said. “So to come in and play in empty arenas, I feel it’s the same everywhere. We’ve got to go in and play basketball. For us, especially for me, having played in the Garden with all the fans and knowing how special it is to be on this side, I still think it’s an advantage for us (to play in front of fans), because I love playing in the Garden. For everybody else, I don’t know, I can’t speak for them.”