Julius Randle delivered his sixth triple-double of the season as the New York Knicks notched their 40th win and averted what could have been a disastrous collapse.
The Knicks squandered an 18-point lead but recovered just in time to beat the Charlotte Hornets, 118-109, in overtime to stay in the hunt for the precious fourth seed.
Now, the Knicks will keenly watch the Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks game later. A Heat loss will give the Knicks complete control of their destiny â€” beat the Jaylen Brown-less Boston Celtics tomorrow, and they end up as No. 4 with the homecourt edge in the first round of the playoffs.
Randle atoned for his offensive struggles late in the regulation by controlling the game in the extra five minutes. Playing decoy, Randle scored only two free throws but dished out five assists â€” the first two set up Alec Burks and Reggie Bullock for three-pointers that silenced the Hornetsâ€™ buzz.
â€œI thought he (Randle) and Alec had a good chemistry in that two-man game,â€ Tom Thibodeau said. â€œTheir responsibility is to read the game. What they (Hornets) were doing â€” there was a switch, there was a double-team. And we think we can get good offense off that. Anytime we can get those two on the ball, just make the right read, get to your spacing. And it creates a lot of easy offense for us.â€
Randle had 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists to move two games away from tying Walt â€˜Clydeâ€™ Frazierâ€™s record of most triple-doubles (8) in a single season in the franchise history.
Nerlens Noel anchored the Knicksâ€™ tenacious defense with five blocks and two steals. He added eight points and 11 rebounds.
They held the Hornets to 38 percent from the field, with Charlotteâ€™s prized rookie LaMelo Ball rendered ineffectively. Ball was 4-for-15 from the floor for only eight points and four assists.
With their defense sharp in the middle quarters, the Knicks grabbed an 18-point (48-30) in the second quarter and a 17-point lead (73-56) five minutes into the second half.
But Miles Bridges, who scored 30 points in his first game back from health and safety protocols, led a Hornetsâ€™ comeback. Bridges scored 16 in a 30-16 closing run by Charlotte to move within three at the end of the third quarter, 89-86.
The Hornets stepped on the gas and seized a four-point lead, 93-89, with a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter. It was a nip-and-tuck affair from there.
Five straight points from Randle gave the Knicks a 104-101 lead with 4:34 left in regulation. Aside from a Terry Rozier split at the line to close the gap, 104-102, both teams couldnâ€™t buy a basket down the stretch. Rozier broke the spell for both teams with the game-tying layup in the final 37.8 seconds.
Going for a 2-for-1 play, Randle missed a quick drive, and the Knicks dodged a bullet after the Hornets earned the last two possessions. Rozier missed a jumper, but Burks lost the ball out of bounce with 10.1 seconds left. Luckily for the Knicks, Devonte Graham missed a wide-open three sending the game into overtime.
Randle took over in overtime. He drilled two free throws then assisted on the Knicksâ€™ next five shots to put the game beyond reach.
Bullock racked up 17 points with five threes while the Knicksâ€™ bench countered Bridges and Grahamâ€™s 55-point output.
Derrick Rose returned from a one-game absence and scored 15 points while Burks added 14. Immanuel Quickley also stepped up with 13 points in 24 minutes.
RJ Barett struggled with his shot (9 points, 4-of-10 from the field). Barrett and Rose, curiously, sat out in the crucial moments of the fourth quarter and overtime.
Tom Thibodeau quickly allayed fears that they were hurt.
â€œBoth guys are fine. Itâ€™s just the way the game was unfolding. We started off the third quarter really well and we hit a lull. Weâ€™re just trying to find a group that could go and that group (without Barrett and Rose) ended up doing well so we stayed with them longer. Theyâ€™re fine and ready to go tomorrow.â€
The Knicks will have everybody except Mitchell Robinson at the conclusion of their regular season against the Celtics tomorrow. A 20-win improvement from their 21-win total last season is at stake. And hopefully, a chance to grab the fourth seed.
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