The New York Knicks had three days off to rest and recover after a disappointing loss at Orlando on Wednesday. For three quarters it appeared that the hiatus served them well. A fourth quarter collapse where they were outscored 28-16 nearly led to disaster. Consequently, the Knicks did just enough down the stretch to escape with a 103-99 win over Minnesota Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Despite their late game woes, New York (15-16) has won four of their last five.
“We’re striving to become a 48-minute team. We’ve got a long way to go, and hopefully we learn from this,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They made up ground quickly on us, but I do like the fact that we kept fighting and we found a way to win the game.”
The win had to feel good for Thibodeau who was fired as the Minnesota coach in 2019. Speaking of which, Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders was fired after the game.
Minnesota (7-24) jumped out to a 9-2 lead on a three-pointer from Karl-Anthony Towns and two more from Ricky Rubio. Rubio entered the game averaging just seven points per game, but scored 15 in the first half.
The Knicks then settled in and turned up the intensity on what has become their trademark defense. Led by the aggressive drives of Elfrid Payton and the shooting of Alec Burks the Knicks fashioned a 30-18 advantage after a quarter.
The Timberwolves bench closed the gap in the second. Led by the foul shooting of Naz Reid and more solid scoring from Rubio, Minnesota got within four at one point. The Knicks however recovered as Julius Randle began to heat up. Randle completed a traditional three-point play after a gorgeous spin move and slam while being fouled in the process. Randle then nailed a long trey as time expired in the half to extend the advantage back to 11 at 61-50.
Things started positively for the Knicks in the third as they took opened up a 13 point lead. The Timberwolves closed to within eight, but five consecutive points by Randle made it 73-58 New York. The Knicks started to pull away from there and Minnesota did not respond. RJ Barrett led the charge as nailed a three-pointer to make it an 18 point game. Next, he made a strong move to he basket for a hoop off the glass. Then Barrett converted a perfect alley oop pass from Payton extending the advantage to 84-65. The Knicks biggest lead of the stanza was 21, but a four-point play by Juan Hernangomez sliced the margin to 87-71 moving to the fourth.
Towns began the final frame with a spin move around Obi Toppin that resulted in a three-point play. Jordan McLaughlin then took advantage of an Immanuel Quickley turnover by connecting on a trey. Suddenly Minnesota had closed the gap to 87-77. New York led by 11 when a three-pointer by Towns and a jumper from Malik Beasley made it 91-85 with just under eight minutes to play. Rookie Anthony Edwards then hit a baseline trey to cut it to 91-88.
A short half-hook by Towns with 2:48 to go handed Minnesota their first lead since 13-10. A pair of Randle free throws gave the Knicks the lead back at 99-98 with 32 second to play. After Towns missed a short jumper Burks sunk two foul shots to give New York a 101-98 edge with 20.9 seconds remaining. After Rubio went 1-for-2 from the stripe with 17 seconds to go, Burks connected on two more free throws to ice it for the Knicks.
Randle led the Knicks with a double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds. Barrett added 21 points. Burks (13), Payton (10), Reggie Bullock (10) and Nelens Noel (10) also reached double-digits for New York.
“I think we’re trying to win every game. I’m very happy we got this one for Coach Thibs, but we need to continue to keep it rolling,” said Barrett, who had a strong fourth quarter performance. “It’s huge. We faced adversity, they came back, and we stayed strong and were able to pull out the win.
Towns had a huge fourth quarter with 15 points and nine boards. He finished the contest with 27 points and 15 rebounds. Rubio contributed 18 points and six assists for the Timberwolves.
The Knicks will again try to reach the .500 mark Tuesday night when the Golden State Warriors come to the Garden. Fans will also be allowed into “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for the first time this season as well.
(Sarah Stier/Pool Photo via AP)