It took a collective effort to stop the bleeding for the wounded New York Knicks.
Without their injured leader, Jalen Brunson, for the second straight game, plenty of heroes stepped up as the Knicks pulled off a much-needed 112-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night to arrest a three-game slide.
Julius Randle returned to his quick-starting ways, while RJ Barrett came through with a huge fourth-quarter performance for the Knicks, who reached 40 wins just for the second time in the past 10 seasons. They also became the fifth team in the Eastern Conference to notch 40 wins. More importantly, they keep pace with the resurgent Brooklyn Nets (39-29) in a tight race for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
They did it with a strong finishing kick, unlike Saturday night’s loss against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“At the start of the fourth [quarter against the Clippers], we came out kinda flat. Tonight, we put the pressure at the start of the fourth and built a lead,” RJ Barrett said. “We did that.”
They played with more energy to close out the game, starting with Barrett dropping 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks appeared cruising to an easy win when they built a 10-point cushion, the largest lead from either team, going into the final two minutes. But the Lakers stormed back with an 8-0 run to come within two, 110-108, with 19.3 seconds left.
The Knicks wisely used the clock then Josh Hart sealed the win with two clutch free throws in the final five seconds.
“We just stayed in attack mode and played together,” said Barrett of what worked against the Lakers, who entered the contest with a three-game winning streak.
Barrett repeatedly attacked the rim with a burst of confidence. He went 8 for 11 around the rim.
Randle fired 18 points in the first quarter and hiked his total points in the opening quarter this season to 644, the most in franchise history since NBA started tracking play-by-plays in 1997-98. He eclipsed Carmelo Anthony’s 628 points.
Randle set the tone for the Knicks, who methodically wore down the Lakers.
Anthony Davis was held to 17 points on 8 of 18 shooting as Knicks backup center Isaiah Hartenstein kept him in check for most of the tightly-fought game. Hartenstein did not score a single point but grabbed 10 rebounds, issued two assists, and collected two steals that justified Tom Thibodeau’s decision to close out the game with him instead of starting center Mitchell Robinson. The backup big was a game-high plus-19.
Aside from Hartenstein, Miles McBride (8 points, 3 steals) and Obi Toppin (9 points on 4 of 6 field goals) also delivered quality minutes off the bench.
Hart was also in his element, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out four assists, mostly on leak outs that gave Knicks easy points on transition. His last feed to a streaking Barrett gave the Knicks a 110-100 lead with 2:34 left.
Immanuel Quickley started again in place of Brunson and contributed 15 points and three assists that helped offset D’Angelo Russell’s 33-point and 8-assist game for the Lakers.
The Knicks will be without Brunson, who watched the game with his bruised left foot on a walking boot when they wrap up their West Coast trip in Portland on Tuesday. They improved to 4-4 without Brunson this season.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo