Struggling all game long, RJ Barrett came alive just in the nick of time as the New York Knicks booked an upset win over the league-leading Boston Celtics, 120-117, in overtime Thursday night on the road.
Barrett buried the go-ahead corner three-pointer with 29.1 seconds left, then the Knicks finally made their free throws when they mattered.
Julius Randle and Barrett went 4 for 4 at the stripes in the final 21.2 seconds to stave off the Celtics.
At the other end, Boston’s stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown choked.
Brown missed two free throws with 7.6 seconds left in the overtime after going 5 for 5 in the regulation. On the other hand, Tatum missed a potential game-tying triple three seconds later.
Jalen Brunson came out of nowhere to seal the Knicks’ 15th win in 25 road games, the second-best mark in the league behind the Celtics (17-9), with a block on Malcolm Brogdon’s final heave at the buzzer.
“We held our own,” Barrett said. “We played together and we played hard. We got the good result.”
The second meeting this season between the NBA’s oldest rivals came with a playoff atmosphere in a game that saw 19 lead changes and nine deadlocks.
Boston waxed hot from the outside at the start and opened a 22-7 lead. But New York recovered behind the trio of Randle, Brunson, and Immanuel Quickley.
The Knicks then took a six-point lead after three quarters, with Randle and Brunson combining for 27 of the team’s 33 points in the third period. They extended the lead to 13 at the start of the fourth quarter behind their second unit, with Miles McBride setting the tone on defense.
But the Celtics erased a 12-point deficit with a 16-4 closing run in the final 4:48 of the regulation. Tatum unloaded 11 of his 35 points during that run but missed a fadeaway jumper with 3.5 seconds left.
Jericho Sims had a game-saving block on Robert Williams III’s attempt as time expired.
In overtime, the Celtics scored the first five points — 3 from Derrick White and Tatum’s two free throws — to surge ahead. The Knicks did not score until 2:45 with Randle’s fifth three-pointer that set up Barrett’s heroics.
Their second huge win against the top teams in the East pushed the Knicks’ record to 27-23, half a game behind the sixth-seed Miami Heat (27-22).
Barrett wound up with 19 points on 6 of 18 shooting. He was 1 of 4 from behind the arc before he hit the clutch three-pointer in overtime.
“I didn’t have a good shooting night, but I was ready to take that shot,” Barrett said. “I feel like we’re getting more comfortable in those situations.”
Randle continued his hot shooting ways with 37 points, netting five from behind the arc, after hitting a career-high-tying eight triples against Cleveland two nights ago. He also highlighted his night with two poster slams against Al Horford and Tatum.
Randle also came one rebound short of what could have been his 31st double-double this season. Nonetheless, it was an inspiring performance that he hopes would be remembered by coaches when they cast their ballots for the All-Star reserves.
Brunson also came out with an All-Star-worthy performance. After finishing 10th in the All-Star balloting among Eastern Conference guards, Brunson was fired up and drilled 29 points and seven assists against the Celtics, who played without Marcus Smart (ankle).
Quickley scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half that kept the Knicks afloat.
Sims also played huge, grabbing 14 rebounds in another start for the injured Mitchell Robinson.
But despite Sims’ monster night on the boards, the Knicks were still outrebounded by five overall and six on the offensive glass, which the Celtics translated to a 21-8 advantage in second-chance points.
Boston also hit more 3s (16-13). Both teams made an identical 19 of 23 free throws, but Brown’s crucial misses were telling.
The Knicks recovered lost ground as they only committed eight turnovers against 13 from the Celtics, which led to four more attempts and made 3 of them that turned out to be the difference in the tightly-fought game.
In what Knicks tormentor-turned-TNT analyst Reggie Miller dubbed a potential first-round playoff matchup, the Knicks showed they have enough to beat the best team.
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