Knicks defy Vegas odds after gritty comeback over Wizards

Alder Almo

The New York Knicks were not supposed to be winning. They were pegged to be tanking.

Las Vegas oddsmakers projected them to be just a 22.5-win team this season. But here they are, defying odds and pulling out a gut-wrenching victory in a game they had no business winning after an awful start.

The Knicks overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to stun the Washington Wizards, 106-102, Thursday night at The Garden.

Their 23rd win of the season enabled them to climb to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Earlier in the day, the Knicks front office stood pat at the trade deadline and only made one minor move, dealing away seldom-used Austin Rivers and Iggy Brazdeikis.

Team president Leon Rose stuck to their plan and showed restraint, choosing stability and chemistry.

Tom Thibodeau praised the move and said he loves the team that they have.

“Their willingness to commit to play for each other, sacrifice to put the team first, come in every day. We know we have a long way to go. It will require more commitment and more sacrifices, and more fight because you can see how bunched everyone is. You need some good fortune, but you also need the willingness to play as a team,” Thibodeau said before the game. “This team has demonstrated that all year and so we want to continue to build and see where we can go.”

The Knicks showed plenty of fight in this game. They overhauled a huge deficit, playing for each other, and played as a team in the final 15 minutes.

With All-Star Julius Randle looked hurt and struggling, sophomore RJ Barrett stepped up. He typified the Knicks’ grittiness barreling his way to 19 points in the second half, including a key three-point play in the fourth quarter over Washington’s All-Star starter Bradley Beal. Fired up, he flexed his muscle as New York tied the game at 91-apiece.

The Knicks stared at a 16-point deficit, 78-62, with 2:32 left in the third quarter. They outscored the Wizards, 44-22, the rest of the way.

Alec Burks had his fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points. He strung up 15 in the dizzying Knicks run in the final period and led the team with 27 points and six rebounds.

The Knicks shot 12-for-20 in the fourth quarter after an atrocious 30 percent shooting through the first three quarters.

Barrett was only 2-for-12 in the first half, but he came alive in the second half, burying 5 of his last 10 shots. The 20-year old wing finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

They turned their defense into offense.

After a torrid 54 percent shooting in the first half, the Knicks held the Wizards to 39 percent in the last two quarters.

Russell Westbrook was spooked in the second half. He went 0-for-8 before fouling out and ended up at the wrong end of history. He is the first player across the past 25 seasons to go 0-8 or worse from the floor and have 6 personal fouls in any half, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Westbrook finished with just 13 points after scoring nine in the first half. Beal led the Wizards with 26 points. Japanese forward Rui Hachimura scored 19, but only two in the fourth quarter.

Randle, who hurt his right quadriceps in a loose ball collision, had an off night. The All-Star forward only scored 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting. But he came through when it mattered, drilling two clutch baseline jumpers that kept the Wizards at bay.

The Knicks played without Nerlens Noel (sore right shoulder) and Reggie Bullock (sprained right ankle). It hurt Thibodeau’s rotation as the starters came out flat.

The starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina combined to shoot 3-for-10 from the field and had zero assists.

Thibodeau found good fortune from his bench.

Burks led the Knicks’ second unit that outscored the Wizards bench, 55-19.

Rookie Immanuel Quickley added 16 points. Taj Gibson stepped in and anchored the Knicks defense in the second half. The 35-year old veteran tallied 10 points, eight boards, and two blocks. His inspired play kept Mitchell Robinson on the bench. Robinson got six points, seven boards, and two blocks but had the team’s second-worst net rating with minus-14. Payton was the worst with a minus-15.

The Knicks lottery pick Obi Toppin had another scoreless outing, but his two steals and one block energized the team in their spirited second-half rally.

It was the kind of effort that made Thibodeau fall in love with this group. This gritty win once again validated the Knicks leadership’s faith in them.

“It’s great to understand the front office has confidence in us,’’ Gibson said. “But we got to continue to grow. It was a hard-fought win that showed the character of our team.”

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