Brunson-less Knicks pull off cardiac win against Heat

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

The New York Knicks found themselves in another frantic finish. But this time, they pulled it off without their best clutch player.

Jalen Brunson sat out with a non-COVID illness. But somehow, the Knicks collectively found a way to survive with a 106-104 win over their rivals Miami Heat Thursday night at Madison Square Garden to pull within one game behind their victims for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed.

The Knicks’ sloppy offensive execution off timeouts down the stretch nearly cost them the game again.

RJ Barrett’s bounce-back game from his late benching during Tuesday night’s overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was nearly dimmed by consecutive bad passes off inbound plays inside the final 54.5 seconds.

However, center Isaiah Hartenstein bailed him out with a huge steal leading to a Julius Randle slam for a 106-101 cushion with 5.2 seconds left.

Max Struss hit a three-pointer, and then Randle committed a turnover off the Knicks’ last timeout that opened the backdoor for the Heat to steal the win with 2.1 seconds left.

Randle and Barrett redeemed themselves from their earlier miscues with a defensive gem in the game’s final play, forcing Tyler Herro to a tough three-point attempt from the corner he badly missed.

Randle delivered a performance worthy of his second All-Star selection with his 33rd double-double this season. He finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals that negated his game-high seven turnovers.

Despite his five turnovers and missing all of his five attempts from downtown, Barrett led the Knicks in scoring with 30 points on 13 of 23 overall shooting. He added eight rebounds and four assists as he stepped up to fill Brunson’s scoring void.

“I always believed [Barrett’s] going to bounce back. And immediately the next day after the Lakers game, I assumed he would be fine because I know it’s important for RJ, so I knew he’d come out aggressive,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Named an All-Star reserve in the East before the game, Randle came out on fire with 12 points in the opening quarter as the Knicks led by as many as 13.

Heat’s own All-Star big man Bam Adebayo responded with 11 in the second quarter while their bench outscored their Knicks counterparts, 13-3, as they took a five-point lead. But Randle’s five-point binge to end the first half gave the Knicks a 51-48 lead.

It was a game of runs in the third quarter, with Barrett leading the Knicks’ strong start to build their largest lead, 64-50. But the Heat stormed back quickly with a 19-2 run to take the lead.

Another huge start for the Knicks in the fourth quarter gave them a 92-81 lead with 7:23 left. The Heat slowly clawed back behind Adebayo and Herro, who combined for 24 of the team’s 32 points in the final period.

Quentin Grimes scored 17 points, spiked by 3 of 5 shooting from the outside. Immanuel Quickley started in place for Brunson and he added eight points, six rebounds and four assists.

Hartenstein led the Knicks bench with eight points, 10 rebounds and three steals, with his last proving to be the pivotal play of the tight game.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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