Knicks pull off season’s largest comeback behind unlikely hero

James Harden, Evan Fournier, New York Knicks

New York Knicks veteran guard Evan Fournier had been reduced to an afterthought this season. But on the second night of a brutal back-to-back schedule against elite teams and with RJ Barrett a late scratch due to a non-COVID illness, Fournier had his number called.

And he responded with his best game of the season.

The 30-year-old Fournier drilled a season-high 17 points off the bench to help the Knicks mount their largest comeback this season to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 108-97, Sunday night before a roaring 17,586 crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Coming off a tough overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers 24 hours earlier, the Knicks started the game flat as they fell behind as many as 21 in the opening quarter. But they closed the quarter with a 12-5 run to close the gap.

Then Fournier hit the first of his five three-pointers to open the second quarter that sparked an 8-0 run to cut the 76ers’ lead to just three, 35-32.

It became a tight game from there.

Fournier had eight points in the second quarter. He added nine in the fourth period where the Knicks wrested control of the game.

The Knicks second unit immensely benefited from Jalen Brunson’s backcourt leadership as they knocked down open shots that caught the 76ers off guard.

Second-year Miles McBride matched his season-high 14 points, seven in the pivotal fourth quarter. At the same time, Isaiah Hartenstein continued his stellar play, filling in for Mitchell Robinson (thumb injury) with 14 rebounds, four on the offensive glass.

New York’s second unit outscored Philadelphia’s reserves, 37-16.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau rode Fournier and McBride’s hot hands to close the game.

Fournier was a season-high plus-28 Sunday night, while McBride was a game-high plus-34.

A three-pointer each from McBride, Obi Toppin, and Fournier at the onset of the fourth quarter saw New York take the lead, 86-82, on a 10-0 run.

Every time Philadelphia came close, Fournier was there to answer with a booming three-pointer. He also set up McBride’s third triple of the night for a 98-90 Knicks lead with 3:22 left.

Philadelphia never recovered.

The 76ers came to New York with an eight-game winning streak on the road. An undermanned but gritty Knicks squad ended it.

Getting a huge lift from their bench, Julius Randle flexed just enough muscle and scattered 24 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Brunson followed up his 41-point effort against the Clippers with 21 and seven assists.

With the win, the Knicks cut Miami Heat’s lead for the sixth seed by half-game once again and improved to 14-15 at home.

New York has one more game in Orlando, Fournier’s home for six-and-a-half seasons, before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Fournier is one of the Knicks’ prime trade candidates, and if Sunday’s win is his last Knicks game, he will go out on a high note.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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