The New York Knicks (28-25) barely edged the visiting Miami Heat, 106-104, at MSG on Thursday night to inch closer to them in the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams are now separated by just one game. Miami (29-24) is still in possession of the No. 6 seed with a .547 winning percentage to New York’s .528 with both squads having played 43 games each.
Two men from the Heat organization could have ended up being key had Miami pulled the upset off, but they ran out of luck. Coach Erik Spoelstra challenged a call and won the benefit of the refs; 1-0. Chucker Tyler Herro hoisted the potential game-winning shot hitting metal instead of nylon; 1-1 and world-order restored.
“I thought we had a good look,” Herro said. Yessir.
The Knicks escaped a third consecutive loss instead winning for the first time in three attempts with two more games at MSG before going on the road while sandwiching next Feb. 9 trade deadline with matchups at Orlando and Philly.
Julius Randle and RJ Barrett split the bill and spared the Knicks.
Randle was named an All-Star reserve before the game and scored 23 points on Thursday to go with a packed-full-of-goodies stat line featuring 10 boards, six dimes, and three blocks on top of that scoring output.
Barrett, after getting benched for more than six minutes at the end of the game against the Lakers last Tuesday, played a team-high 41 minutes on Thursday cooking himself a 30-piece meal with eight rebounds and four assists.
“I always believed [Barret] was going to bounce back, and I saw it immediately the next day after the Laker game,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I knew he’d come out aggressive.”
Aggressive he came out, indeed. Randle scored 19 points in the first half and Barrett hit 20 after the break as the Heat and the Knicks exchanged punches all game long winning quarters alternatively until reaching the 106-104 final tally.
Barret said he felt he “hadn’t really had aggression from start to finish in a while,” which seemingly fostered him to “just try to do that” against Miami. RJ went for 23 field-goal attempts in a rather wild way (0-of-5 from beyond the arc) though he still hit 13 shots and bagged 4-of-6 freebies from the charity stripe.
Of course, Barrett was in much better spirits than Tuesday—when he refused to address the media—after getting benched then but not yesterday. “I’m talking to you guys today,” Barrett started. “I’m human. I get frustrated sometimes. My mother told me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Barrett kept on going. “This is the NBA, man. I have my family, this team, we always support each other. It’s the NBA. It’s one game, just like this is one game.”
With Jalen Brunson out due to a non-COVID illness, Immanuel Quickley started at the point and played a low-maintenance, 37-minute role. IQ scored his fewest points (eight) in any game this season in which he logged 37+ minutes, also tying his lowest FGA in any such game with eight attempts.
Randle praised Isaiah Hartenstein after his game-deciding home-stretch play while also resting easy after the Knicks came back to their winning ways at MSG. “We needed that, especially at home,” said Randle. “We haven’t played as well as we wanted to here.”
New York moved to a 2-2 record in games Brunson has missed. Speaking after the game and asked about his point guard’s snub from the ASG, Thibodeau said that “I think [Randle and Brunson] are deserving,” adding that “I’m hopeful Jalen gets recognized for the contributions that he’s made.”
Some things will never change.
Thibodeau said after the game that he thinks “getting Jalen has freed [Randle] up,” and that “[Randle] has done a good job of diversifying his game.” The coach added that “last season [Randle] was challenged in a different way because of what he had done the previous season and we had injuries to our point guards last year, so he had to do a lot,” trying to explain the bounce-back year of his forward and franchise player.
Randle spoke highly of the effort against the Heat, saying that winning “was great, we needed it, especially to do it on the home court,” reasoning that “[Miami is] above us [in the standings] and we want to close that gap a little bit.” Makes sense.
Jericho Sims started at the five (19 minutes) but didn’t have the impact you’d like to watch, missing his lone attempted shot while only grabbing a couple of boards and contributing a measly dime. I-Hart, on the other hand, logged 29 minutes and fell just one bucket short of dub-dubbing with eight points, 10 boards, three steals, and one assists on Thursday.
Only three other men made graced the MSG hardwood with partial cameos by the frozen French Evan Fournier (five points shooting 1-of-7 from the field and 1-of-6 from three-point range in 18 minutes of play), little Miles McBride (eight points in 11 minutes), and our favorite marginalized player Obi Toppin (seven points in 14 minutes).
No, Cam Reddish didn’t play. Cam Reddish won’t play. Worst of all? This being the Knicks, Cam Reddish probably won’t even get traded and instead leave for free come June. C’mon, Leon.
The Knicks stay home hosting foes at MSG with a back-to-back scheduled for the weekend. It’s the Los Angeles Clippers (29-26) on Saturday, then the Sixers (33-17) on Sunday. First of those tip-offs tomorrow at 7:00 PM EST. Don’t miss it.