Julius Randle, Bench Keep Rockets Grounded in 121-99 Win

Julius Randle produced another all-star caliber performance and the dynamic bench duo of Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose again provided a boost as the New York Knicks pulled away in the second half to ground the Houston Rockets 121-99 Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The win completes a back to back weekend sweep for the Knicks (13-15). It was the fifth loss in a row for Houston (11-15).

New York was minus rim protector Mitchell Robinson for the first time since he fractured his wrist Friday night. Therefore, other Knicks needed to raise their games to ease the blow of losing the elite shot-blocking 22 year old. Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson did just that. Noel contributed 10 points and six rebounds in a season-high 32 minutes. Gibson played 16 minutes, adding four points and five boards.

“Terrific. They’re both great pros and you know they’re always ready for whatever comes their way,” New York TomThibodeau boasted.“Taj has been both a starter and a bench guy throughout his career, so I think he handles both very well.”

Randle continued his stellar play. He finished just shy of yet another double-double with 22 points and nine rebounds. Randle also handed out two assists.

The Rockets, who were without Christian Wood and Victor Oladipo, managed to stay within striking distance of the Knicks for three quarters. Houston grabbed the lead early, but a 16-3 run gave the Knicks a 30-25 advantage after the first quarter. A trio of 3-pointers by Reggie Bullock and a slam off an alley oop by Noel sparked the New York spurt.

In the second it was time for the Knicks second unit to shine. Led by Quickley and Rose, New York went on a 14-5 stretch to put some distance between themselves and the Rockets. The newly-formed explosive backcourt combo combined 14 points as the lead ballooned to 17. The Knicks led 63-47 at the half.

“It’s amazing. One, to be able to play with [Rose] and two, to be able to learn with him, he teaches me something new every single day on the floor and off the floor,” Quickley said. “I’m learning a lot of stuff. I don’t want to give it away, because it’s a lot of stuff I’m going to take with me throughout my career.”

In the third it appeared as though the Knicks might collapse. They opened the stanza with four quick turnovers. Next, Houston’s star guard John Wall started to heat up. Wall has not been known for his 3-point shooting during his career. However, in the second half of this one he caught fire. Wall exploded for 15 points in the quarter. The former Kentucky Wildcat standout knocked down treys and took advantage of the absence of Robinson to get easy baskets in the paint. With their energy ignited by Wall the Rockets closed to within five. Quickley responded with a pair of three-pointers of his own to extend the lead back to 87-85 entering the fourth.

In the final segment Quickley and Rose continued to prosper and Obi Toppin played some quality minutes as the Knicks put the game away allowing Thibodeau to utilize his bench beyond his usual 10 man rotation.

“The balance of the team, our bench has given us a big lift,” Thibodeau said. “You need that in a game like tonight, when we’re on a back-to-back and they’re sitting here waiting for us. I thought our energy was terrific.”

The Knicks who have one of the lowest 3-point percentages in the league were 12 for 28 from beyond the arc. Good for 42.9%. They shot 52.3% overall from the field, compared to 37.5% for Houston. The Rockets were successul, of you can call it that, oon just 18.6% of their three-point attempts.

Quickley finished with 22 points on four 3-pointers. Rose added 16 points and three assists. Elfrid Payton (15) and Toppin (11) also reached double-digits.

Wall claimed game-high scoring honors with 26. Eric Gordon poured in 24, helpng to keep the Rockets in the contest in the first half.

New York can enjoy Valentines Day off before seeking their third consecutive victory Monday against Atlanta at the Garden.

 (Wendell Cruz/Pool Photo via AP)

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