Three nights after he played centre against Philadelphia, and with Fred VanVleet nursing a sore back, Barnes filled in admirably at the point, finishing with 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in Toronto's 139-109 rout of the Atlanta Hawks.
"I was just taking the looks that they were giving me, trying to capitalize, make the right plays at the right time," Barnes said.
Pascal Siakam had 31 points and 12 rebounds in Toronto's seventh consecutive win over the Hawks at Scotiabank Arena. Gary Trent Jr. added 21 points, O.G. Anunoby finished with 14 points and six steals, Chris Boucher chipped in with 11 points and Precious Achiuwa had 10 for Toronto (4-3).
Dejounte Murray led Atlanta (4-3) with 20 points.
On the heels of an ugly 112-90 loss to Philadelphia on Friday, the Raptors led for most of the night, and were up by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, before taking a 95-80 advantage into the fourth.
A pair of Achiuwa free throws put Toronto ahead by 20 points less than a minute into the fourth quarter, before Murray's driving layup sliced the difference to 15. But the Raptors answered every Hawks run, and when rookie Christian Koloko — who earned his first NBA start — slashed to the hoop for a dunk, the basket gave Toronto a 24-point lead, much to the delight of the capacity Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,800 fans.
Fans chanted "M-V-P!" when Siakam connected on two free throws with 5:22 to play. The baskets put Toronto up by 29, and coach Nick Nurse emptied his bench at that point.
While Nurse has praised Barnes' ability to run the offence, he was more impressed with his defensive effort. The Raptors had a great night on defence, forcing 18 Hawks turnovers for 24 points.
"(Barnes) was pushing, he was dancing the ball, throwing ahead for transition buckets, really got us going in transition offence — but his defence was outstanding tonight," Nurse said.
The 6-9 Barnes, who played point guard at Florida State, said on season-opening media day that he was eager to play more at the point this season.
"He can play every position basically, and the good thing is that he's willing to do it," Koloko said of Barnes. "When coaches tell him to play (centre), he's cool with it … he's willing to do it for the team. That's just what type of player he is."
Barnes hit three consecutive three-pointers in less than a minute in the first quarter, and Boucher's three-pointer with 3:07 left in the frame capped a 7-0 run that put Toronto up by 11. They led 34-28 to start the second.
Young's three midway through the second quarter saw the Hawks go up by three points, but Barnes' three-pointer was the exclamation mark on a Raptors' 20-4 run that had them back up by 13. Toronto headed into the halftime break leading 64-53.
The Hawks pulled to within a point early in the third quarter, but their momentum was short-lived, and when Trent connected on a pair of free throws late in the frame, the Raptors went ahead by 17, their biggest lead to that point.
"A team like this will pound you, as they did," said Hawks coach Nate McMillan. "I thought there was more urgency coming from them. They played harder. They out-scrapped us."
VanVleet will have to wait another game at least to make up for his 0-for-11 shooting night in Friday's loss to Philadelphia. He sat out Monday's game a day after he was unable to practise due to lower back stiffness.
"Thought he'd be ready to go tonight, but was not," said Nurse.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
The game marked the first time AJ Griffin, the son of Raptors' assistant Adrian Griffin and a rookie with the Hawks, faced his dad's team in an NBA game.
"It's pretty cool, especially for Griff, Griff and I are pretty close," Nurse said. "We watched a lot of Duke basketball (where AJ played) last year. He's proud … He's a very, very nice young man. When the ball goes up, we've got to make sure he doesn't shoot it open, because he can shoot."
The Hawks head to New York and play the Knicks on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press