Knicks zero in on top 6 finish after ending 11-year spell in L.A.

With the New York Knicks’ outright playoff hopes falling apart after another awful start, Derrick Rose came to the rescue.

The Knicks came out flat again, but Rose, the former MVP turned super-sub, came in to inject life on a lethargic offense. 

Then Julius Randle woke up just in time to bring them home.

The Knicks hammered out a massive 106-100 win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday afternoon to remain at fourth seed in the East with four games left.

Rose scattered 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting and issued seven assists in the opening half as the Knicks recovered from a 10-0 Clippers opening run.

Randle came through with three clutch baskets down the stretch that killed any Clippers’ hopes of a comeback.

It was the Knicks’ first win in Los Angeles against the Clippers since 2010. Most importantly, it pushed the Knicks’ record to 38-30, avoiding a complicated three-way tie with the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, both with 37-31 record.

The Knicks need only one more win and another Boston Celtics’ loss to secure at least a top-six finish for an outright playoff spot. The Celtics (35-33), the current seventh seed, are now three games behind after the Heat beat them earlier. 

“That would be big, but at the same time Thibs always talks about going through the finish line,” Rose said. “We know we’re not finished with what we’re doing.”

New York drew plenty of inspiring performances from Rose, Reggie Bullock, and RJ Barrett to mitigate the continued absence of Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley and the early offensive struggles of Randle.

Thibodeau praised Randle for staying the course, saying he had a big night all-around, Rose’s leadership, and the unsung heroes — Bullock, Barrett, Taj Gibson, and the rest of the team.

“The big thing is perseverance — the way he rebounded the ball, the hustle plays that he made. He played great without shooting the ball great. And then at the end of the game, he made several big plays for us,” Thibodeau said of Randle’s performance.

“When your leader steps up like that, with the way Derrick played in the first half, Reggie, RJ, and Taj (Gibson), that was huge. There was a number of guys — Elfrid’s ball pressure at the start of the second half — all those things matter.”

Bullock scored a season-high 24 points with five triples against the team that originally drafted him. His three-pointer with 2:10 left in the third quarter capped a 10-2 Knicks’ run for a 79-69 spread, their largest lead in the game.

Rose and Barrett hit timely threes in the fourth quarter every time the Clippers crept in. Then Barrett had a huge block on Paul George with 1:23 remaining in the game that preserved a 98-93 lead for the Knicks. Barrett also had a hand on holding Kawhi Leonard to under 35 percent shooting.

Leonard, the Clippers’ main man, finished with a game-high 29 points but bled for every point on 26 shots.

Randle, who struggled for only eight points until the final three minutes, drilled three consecutive jumpers to bail the Knicks out of trouble. His last shot — a stepback jumper over George with 39.7 seconds sealed the Knicks’ 38th win of the season.

Rose tied his season-high of 25 points to pace the Knicks. He added eight assists and grabbed six rebounds in 33 minutes off the bench as the ineffective Elfrid Payton continued to struggle offensively with just two points on a 1-of-5 shooting performance.

Barrett had a complete line — 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block. Randle wound up with 14 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists. He struggled on the field with 7-of-19 shooting but was sharp down the stretch.

With the Knicks’ seven-year playoff drought most likely coming to an end, Thibodeau was appreciative of their journey so far but reminded everyone they should not be satisfied. 

“The challenge for us here is to be hungry and don’t change now,” Thibodeau said. “This is what we’ve done all year. Just concentrate on improvement and the next opponent, and that’s what we’re looking forward to doing. I think we’re learning a lot on this trip, and we’ve learned a lot all season long. The toughness to win on the road, to be playing against these teams, it’s telling us a lot. But there’s a long way to go.”

The Knicks will close out this once dreaded West Coast trip against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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