ATLANTA — It goes back to high school, the rivalry between RJ Barrett and Scottie Barnes.
As Barrett pointed out ahead of their next matchup, “I busted his ass.” That was in reference to the 2018 national title game, when Barrett dropped 25 points with 15 rebounds in Montverde Academy’s beatdown over Barnes’ squad, University School.
Now Barrett and Barnes are NBA foes with mutual respect but also some extra motivation for Sunday’s head-to-head in Toronto.
“Hopefully [I guard him again],” Barrett said. “That’s what I want.”
The fuel for Barrett, beyond the return to his hometown of Toronto and the need to snap a three-game losing streak, is the last matchup against the Raptors less than a week ago. Barrett buried a thrilling game-tying dunk and scored 32 points in that contest, but the Knicks dropped a heartbreaker with Barnes grabbing clutch rebounds. It prompted a postgame comment from Barnes about exploiting a mismatch against Barrett.
“When I was posting up, RJ is a good defender, but I felt like with me being taller, with my size, I was going to be able to get a good look around the rim every single time,” Barnes, the 2022 Rookie of the Year, said.
Barrett responded Friday.
“It’s what the plays are set up for him to do. I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “I had a lot of tough battles against him in high school. I remember winning a national championship against him in high school. So we’ve been battling for a while. Lot of respect. We have the same agency [BDA Sports]. Lot of respect. But it’s going to be a good fight.”
On guarding Barnes again Sunday, Barrett said, “He got to guard me, too.”
Even without the Barnes storyline, the Toronto game is special for Barrett. He missed the last visit to Scotiabank Arena while recovering from a finger laceration, but took solace in the return coming so quickly.
During last season’s visit, Barrett had roughly 1,000 friends, family and members of his church congregation in the seats.
“It’s going to be a tough, physical playoff-type game. That’s what it’s been the three times we played them,” Barrett said. “We owe them. It’s going to be a good matchup. You know I’m excited.
“I can’t wait to play. I can’t wait.”
During the Jan. 16 matchup at Madison Square Garden, Barnes, who scored 26 points with six offensive rebounds, was also spotted on video taunting Quentin Grimes by pointing at the Knicks forward and repeating, “You are not him.”
Grimes told the Daily News it wasn’t personal.
“He just talking. Everybody is just talking,” Grimes said. “It is what it is. It really ain’t nothing.”
For Grimes, the real revenge is tying the season series.
“They got two, we got one. We need to even this up. We know what type of game it’s going to be in their city,” Grimes said. “It’s going to be a dogfight for sure.”