From Zero to Hero: Bullock’s steal saves Knicks from Magic’s spell

Alder Almo

In a game they desperately needed to win, the New York Knicks found a way to pull through in the end.

Reggie Bullock turned from zero to hero, while Julius Randle took on the playmaking mantle.

The undermanned Knicks survived the Orlando Magic’s scare, 94-93, Thursday night in front of a delirious 2,000 crowd at The Garden.

For the second straight game, the Knicks lost a lead in the fourth quarter, and for the third consecutive game, it came down to the last possession. But this time, they did not cave in to pressure.

An Evan Fournier three-pointer off a Bullock turnover set up the dramatic finish.

Fournier won the tip after forcing Bullock to a jump ball with 22.4 seconds left. Coming from a Magic timeout, Bullock redeemed himself with a steal off Fournier in the final 5.9 seconds to seal the win.

“My mindset is that I just turned it over,” Bullock said after his teammates mobbed him. “I knew I had to step up on the defensive end and get a stop.”

Bullock also stepped up on the offensive end, firing 20 points with six triples to carry the Knicks’ bench as he swapped roles with Alec Burks, who also thrived as a starter.

Thibodeau was forced to make the switch as the Knicks played without their top three point guards—Elfrid Payton (hamstring), Derrick Rose (healthy and safety protocols), and Immanuel Quickley (ankle)—and with Frank Ntilikina struggling since the All-Star break.

Burks scored 21 and added 10 assists, but it was Randle who stepped up big time, dishing out a career-high 17 assists, the most by a non-guard in Knicks history.

Randle also completed his third triple-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds, becoming the first Knicks player to have three or more triple-doubles in a season since Michael Ray Robinson had seven in 1981-82.

Ntilikina broke out of his slump and pumped in 13 points, mainly from Randle’s setup. The embattled French guard hit two three-pointers in rhythm in the second half to get it rolling before soaring for an And-1 play over Magic center Nikola Vucevic for his night’s highlight. He also hit a corner clutch three that put the Knicks on top, 88-87, with 3:49 left.

RJ Barrett also continued his solid play with 17 points and nine rebounds.

“We just said we need to win the game by any means necessary, and that’s what we did. Guys stepped up, and I’m proud of our team,” Randle said.

It was a character-building win for the Knicks, who almost squandered a 16-point lead in the second half.

After Randle’s three-pointer put them comfortably on top, 72-56, the Magic responded with a 10-0 run to end the third quarter only down by six.

Orlando continued to cast its magic spell and dropped a 9-2 run to take a 75-74 lead. The Magic held a five-point lead twice in the fourth quarter, but the Knicks kept on scratching and clawing back before snatching the much-needed win that moved them back to .500.

The Knicks (21-21) have now matched their total wins last season and move two victories away from breaking the Las Vegas preseason odds (22.5 wins) with still 30 games left.

“Look, I don’t care how we do it. I just want to win. But I thought, you know, just find a way to win,” Tom Thibodeau said.

And the Knicks did.

Their collective spirit pulled them out of the rabbit hole. Their chemistry made all the parts play as a whole.

It was a delight to see them celebrate with such joy. But things can change in an instant if the trade deadline brings a new fancy toy.

”This is the time of the year every team is talking to every team. ‘If [management] feels it can help our team, I’m sure they’ll take a hard look at it,” Thibodeau said before the game.

But he was quick to add: “I love the guys that we have, so that’s all I focus on. Whoever’s here, that’s what we’re working with. And if something’s good for us and they make a move, that’s great, too.”

Watching their special bond play out this night makes you think the front office will ride it out with this group.

But who knows?

We’ll know more what these Knicks are really made of when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers in a grudge rematch on Sunday night.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo