The Knicks’ late-season push continued to four games and they hardly needed Julius Randle to beat the Bulls 109-104 at the Garden on Monday.
For the second straight day, Alec Burks hit the 3-point corner of the game with 22 seconds left on an excellent pass from Immanuel Quickley that extended the Knicks lead to four.
Burks finished with 27 points, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers and RJ Barrett pumped 28 but missed a turnover jumper and free throw in the final minute.
With Randle on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, Obi Toppin (17 points) gave the Knicks a spark as they swept back-to-back to keep their game-tournament hopes alive – barely.
The Knicks are 9-4 in their last 13 games, but fell 4½ games behind Atlanta as the Hawks beat the Pacers.
They won their fourth straight season without needing anything from Randle, who decided to dress on the second night in a row despite a sore quad and finished with five points (1 of 9 from the field).
“The biggest thing is we’re playing all these young guys and they’re getting valuable experience,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And you’re never knocked out until you’re knocked out. I don’t want a spirit of giving up in our team. I want to keep playing. Until we’re knocked out, we’re going to keep playing.
“We have guys growing up. I don’t believe in that other stuff [tanking]”We had a busy road program and this team is responsive. It’s a nice solid win for us.”
Center Mitchell Robinson was also a force with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and not just on throwbacks. He also picked up a series of alley-oop streams, including a beauty from Barrett.
“Sometimes they’re ‘aight’,” Robinson cracked. “Sometimes they are outside the walls.”
Robinson is an unrestricted free agent and has faced back-to-back Pistons and Bulls teams who talked to the Knicks about him at the trade deadline.
“That’s something we really need – second chance points,” Robinson said. “We can get an extra 2 or 3 points. So I try to go for as much as I can for offensive rebounds.”
The Knicks survived DeMar DeRozan’s 37 points, thanks in part to Burks’ big groove.
Underrated as usual, Burks hit the 3-pointer and stole Sunday against the Pistons. Burks doesn’t like talking to the media and didn’t come into the interview room after either game.
He let Barrett speak for him.
“Important, back-to-back, back-to-back important games for AB and we needed him, so always happy to have him in our squad,” Barrett said.
It’s a shame that this push probably came too late.
“We fight, we fight no matter what. We are a very good team, said Barrett. We are disappointed with the way we started the season, but we are a very good team and we play these victories We scratch, claw and play very well, so when you have something like that, you try to use it.
Meanwhile, MSG Networks’ post-match show slammed Randle for not celebrating with his teammates after the win, with analyst Wally Szczerbiak saying, “Wish Randle would join the party.”
As usual, Thibodeau defended Randle, who didn’t look 100% after missing three games last week with a sore quad and playing 31 minutes on Sunday.
“You can play well when you haven’t shot well. His 13 rebounds were tremendous. A lot of guys wouldn’t play. He wants to play. I have a lot of respect for that.”
There are those fans watching the lottery odds drop, but Thibodeau can’t even imagine that thought process.
“We get a lot of information,” Thibodeau said. “That’s good. It seems like everyone has a different idea of how it should be approached. You have to address what’s best for the team.”
The Bulls took a 28-17 lead on 11 of their first 13 shots. Thibodeau called timeout in fury after Zach Lavine fed Ayo Dosunmu into the lane and he dribbled in for an uncontested dunk. The Bulls led by 12 points after one as the Knicks missed their first seven 3-pointers.
But the Knicks got going in the second quarter, sparked by 3 straight corners from Toppin and an angry lefty flush from Barrett.
Then Burks got going, hit three consecutive field goals and scored 13 points in the second quarter, giving the Knicks a 53-50 halftime lead.
“Good solid win for us,” Thibodeau said.