Sunday’s 96-92 victory over the Boston Celtics in the season finale means the New York Knicks went 23-7 at home over the last four months of the season. They needed every single one of those wins; in truth they needed every win from their 41-31 final record to clinch the fourth seed in the East and homecourt in the first round, where they’ll face the Atlanta Hawks. The Knicks took their victory lap in the third quarter and nearly paid for it in the fourth, but all’s well that ends well and 16 wins in the final 20 is, well...well.
As was the case last game vs. Charlotte, the Knicks were on cruise control through the first half, coasting to a double-digit advantage. It was somewhat surprising to see Boston resting seven rotation players. It was not surprising to see which Knicks propelled them to their big lead. Julius Randle was scoring and setting up others, as always. Derrick Rose provided some bolts of brilliance.
Nerlens Noel did it on both ends, his defense creating offense.
NERLENS STEAL, RJ OOP BACK TO HIM— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 16, 2021
ALL OF THIS pic.twitter.com/tm0jPHL83j
This sequence capped a 12-0 run that saw the Knicks go up 15.
In the third quarter RJ Barrett took over. RJ’s m.o. this year has been quiet first halves followed by second-half explosions. If he were a hitter in baseball he’d be the type whose at-bats don’t start till they’re down 0-2. This longball nearly midway through the third put New York up 12; at the time, it felt bigger than that.
Another Barrett bomb pushed the lead to 20; a tough and-one saw it peak at 21 after he missed the free throw. Entering the fourth the Knicks led by 12. Alec Burks hit a couple of 3s and the W seemed purely a matter of when and not if. If only.
Led by Celtic legends Tremont Waters, Carsen Edwards and Jabari Parker, the road team ran off an improbable run to come from 17 down all the way to within one. Parker put up a season-high 18; Waters scored 13 of his career-high 17 in the final frame.
The Knicks have had problems with long dry spells late in games of late. That’s where the commitment to defense comes in. Boston had numerous chances to tie the game or pull ahead: an Edwards 3 that would have halved the gap rimmed out; a Luke Kornet corner 3 that would have cut the lead to one went in and out; Kornet would miss another wide-open corner 3. Noel would not be denied denying others.
GOD DAMN I NEED TO REPORT A MURDER BY NERLENS NOEL pic.twitter.com/ig8A5tYZ4X— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 16, 2021
Appropriately, the Knicks’ first bucket all day was a 3-pointer by Randle, and it was he who hit the free throw at the end to clinch the win and the four-seed. What a weird, fun year it’s been.
- 20 and seven assists for Randle.
Julius Randle just needs 12 PTS & 6 AST in the final game of the season to finish the season with 24+ PPG, 10+ RPG, & 6+ APG.— Greg Harvey (@BetweenTheNums) May 15, 2021
Only 4 players in NBA history have accomplished this feat: Oscar Robertson (3), Wilt Chamberlain (2), Larry Bird (2), & Russell Westbrook (2) @nyknicks pic.twitter.com/97q4D2mpTB
- Burks is a born scorer.
Heck of a take here on the mismatch by Burks pic.twitter.com/AqLEyXCnu2— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 16, 2021
- Don’t remember seeing this from Obi Toppin earlier in the season. I’m excited to see what the kid can do with a full offseason and training camp.
- Remember when Enes Kanter would never, ever, ever set an actual screen?
A Beautiful and Perfect Screen: The Taj Gibson Story pic.twitter.com/Of5v3HJYRT— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) May 16, 2021
- I don’t know what’s up with Elfrid Payton. But something is. There’s the sitting apart from his teammates, which could be no big deal but which isn’t a good look. But there’s also been more and more seeming detachment, a lack of focus — something. Something not good. He had a chance to put the Knicks up 18 if he’d lofted a shot up over Kornet. Instead, as has happened a lot lately, Payton delusionally tried to go at the 7-footer and came out on the short end; seconds later, Boston was down 13. Mike Breen can’t hide his frustration with Payton. I’ve felt bad for him much of the season, but lately he just looks like he’s checked out mentally.
- Regarding Boston’s Tremont, Clyde’s line “I like Waters’ fluidity, Mike” really killed Breen.
- Breen said “Taco Bell” instead of Tacko Fall. Nobody’s bothered, Mike.
- Clyde regarding Fall: “You know you’re tall when other basketball players stare at you.”
Quoth Randle when Rebecca Haarlow asked him postgame how finishing fourth in the East sounded: “[Sounds] pretty good to me.” An astonishing cherry atop an impossible Sunday sundae. Yet here we are: for the first time in eight years the Knicks are in the playoffs. They get about a week off, then will host the Hawks next weekend. We’ll have plenty of post-regular season and playoff preview stuff coming your way these next few days. Hope you don’t mind waiting on the draft talk for a while. How exciting is this? It’s really exciting!