new york knicks
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The Knicks are suddenly on shakier ground
These Knicks never cease to stop impressing with their fortitude and resiliency.
On their return to the Garden after an 11-day road trip, and with one of their top performers, Derrick Rose, out with a sprained ankle, the Knicks fell behind by 17 points to the Spurs during a third-quarter disaster Thursday.
But up to the plate stepped Alec Burks, who made his own return from a three-game absence with a knee bruise and sparked the Knicks to a raging 102-98 comeback victory.
Burks, who recently missed eight games with COVID-19, scored a season-high 30 points, and RJ Barrett got hot during the comeback, hitting six straight shots at one juncture to finish with 24 points after his eight-point dud in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Tuesday.
It kept alive the Knicks’ hopes of a fourth seed and home-court advantage for the playoff’s first round, though they don’t control their own destiny with two games left.
With fourth-place Atlanta and Miami winning in routs Thursday, the Knicks stayed a half-game behind the Hawks and in a statistical tie for fifth with Miami. But the Heat own the tiebreaker.
If the season ended today, the sixth-seeded Knicks (39-31) would face the third-seeded Bucks. But there’s still two games to go.
Julius Randle was presented the NBA Player of the Month Award for April in a pregame ceremony featuring the Knicks’ front office of Leon Rose, William Wesley and Scott Perry. Perry signed Randle as a free agent in 2019.
Randle dumped in 14 points in the first quarter and finished with 25, but appeared to hurt his finger late in the game.
The Spurs charged out on a 14-0 run to start the second half and looked ready to take out the weary-looking Knicks.
But the Knicks responded ferociously, thanks to Barrett and Randle’s fire and closed the third quarter on a 15-2 run to draw within four points and took control in the fourth quarter.
It still came down to the final possession after Keldon Johnson scored on a three-point play, a driving layup and foul, to make it a one-point Spurs’ deficit with 10 seconds left. Burks was fouled intentionally and made the clinching free throws to put the Knicks up three with 7.7 seconds left.
Legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich paid kudos to Tom Thibodeau for breaking the Knicks’ seven-season playoff drought after ending Minnesota’s 14-year playoff drought. Popovich, who coached with Thibodeau on the Team USA staff, claimed to be completely unsurprised.
“Those of who know him were laughing with huge respect,’’ Popovich said before the game. “You knew it was going to happen. He was going to grab that group and challenge them and hold them accountable. It just makes you smile because you knew it was going to happen. Like night comes after day. He went and did it again. We’re thrilled for him. He’s made it a winning culture. He’s been awesome.”
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