An extra day of rest kept the New York Knicks fresh as they extended the leagueâ€™s longest winning streak to nine.
The Knicks continued their ascendance as a serious playoff contender after repeating over the Toronto Raptors at The Garden, 120-103, on Saturday for a firm grip of the fourth seed in the East.
Itâ€™s the Knicksâ€™ longest winning streak since a 13-game run during the 2012-13 season. Carmelo Anthony led that Knicks team under coach Mike Woodson to 54 wins and the second round of the playoffs, the last time they managed to get there. Thibodeauâ€™s current squad is poised to end that seven-year playoff drought with 11 games remaining.
To keep them fresh for the last stretch, Thibodeau made Thursday a Blackout Day after their eighth straight triumph. Julius Randle used it to rest and recover. His younger teammates followed suit though they still did light shooting.
Randle came fresh as he was unstoppable in the first three quarters. He scored 28 of his game-high 31 points in a variety of ways. The Raptors threw everything at him to no avail.
It was the sixth time in their last seven games Randle scored at least 30 points. He dropped 26 points on the Raptors in their earlier meeting this month before going on a torrid stretch that earned him his first NBA Player of the Week award.
RJ Barrett picked up steam in the fourth quarter, conspiring with the Knicks bench mob to rip the game wide open.
An Immanuel Quickley three ignited a 14-2 run in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Then an Obi Toppin three bookended the Knicksâ€™ flurry as they transformed an 88-83 lead to 102-86 with 9:12 remanining.
Barrett again overcame a poor first half to finish with 25 points, 13 in the pivotal fourth quarter.
With the win, the Knicks improved to 21-10 at The Garden, the sixth-best home record in the league.
The 1,981 fans that roared like a full house Madison Square Garden gave the Knicks a standing ovation. They again serenaded Randle with M-V-P chants and cheered Barrett during his postgame interview.
â€œYou know, playing in The Garden having fans behind like this, itâ€™s tough for teams to play here,â€ said Barrett to the jubilation of their home crowd.
The Raptors experienced that first-hand as they found it tough to stage a comeback. They pulled within seven, 110-103, on a Pascal Siakam triple with 3:18 remaining. But Barrett steadied the Knicks’ offense while Nerlens Noel came through with a defensive gem.
Noel had only solitary point but pulled down five rebounds and swatted away four blocks. His monster block on Siakamâ€™s dunk attempt with 2:15 left prevented the Raptors from getting within seven again.
The Knicks continued to wax hot from the outside hitting 16 of 31 three-pointers for a 51.6 percent clip.
Randle set the tone with three three-pointers in the opening quarter. He went 5-for-7 from deep while Reggie Bullock and Toppin added three apiece.
Derrick Rose continued his stellar play leading the Knicks bench mob with 19 points, four rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Taj Gibson, who sported goggles after suffering a laceration on his eyelid in their previous win, had nine points and five rebounds off the bench. Toppin and Quickley added nine and six points, respectively, all coming from beyond the arc. The bench scoring was so lopsided in favor of the Knicks, 43-11.
At 34-27, the Knicks are now just 3.5 games behind the third seed Milwaukee Bucks (36-22).
They will have the Westâ€™s current second-best team Phoenix Suns, on Monday, who are expected to provide their toughest test yet in the last three weeks.
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