The Knicks needed this one — what with their six-game Western swing up ahead.
The Knicks needed this one — what with a six-game Western swing looming ahead.
Despite a roller-coaster night, during which the Knicks took sizeable leads and the Bulls scrapped back multiple times, Tom Thibodeau’s bunch posted a 113-94 victory at the Garden after laying down the hammer with a spectacular 37-18 fourth quarter.
The Hawks lost at Philadelphia, so the Knicks regained sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference — which would mean home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and more distance from the dangerous play-in tournament.
Responding after they both had dud games Monday against the Suns, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett were dynamos in combining for 56 points. Randle scored 34 points while Barrett added 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Barrett even shook off getting a tongue-lashing on the bench from Thibodeau in the first half after two straight defensive miscues.
In the six-game homestand that started on April 18, the Knicks (35-28) went 5-1, the first time they have posted a record that good on a six-game homestand.
The Bulls, playing without star Zach LaVine (COVID-19 protocols), are still fighting for a top 10 play-in berth.
“Everyone is playing for something,’’ Thibodeau said before the game. “That’s what makes it exciting. The intensity of these games are similar to the playoffs.’’
Thibodeau has been upset with the recent defensive play, and his club responded. Knicks defensive center Nerlens Noel recorded five blocks, including one late on Bulls stud center Nikola Vucevic (24 points), and added three steals.
The Knicks carried a 76-75 lead into the fourth quarter before rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin started their wonderful final period.
Quickley pumped in two early 3-pointers and then Derrick Rose found Toppin for a beautiful alley-oop dunk. Toppin, the 2020 lottery pick who is playing with more verve, tipped in his own miss midway through the fourth to give the Knicks a 93-84 lead.
The Knicks were moving along like a walk in the park, taking a 26-10 lead midway through the first quarter. Randle was rolling again, Barrett was sprinting hard to the basket with a couple of scintillating fastbreak hoops. And the Bulls missed their first eight 3-point shots.
Randle scored 14 first-quarter points, but the Bulls awoke after trailing 32-19 after one quarter.
A 13-2 run early in the second quarter closed the gap to two points, 34-32, after former Villanova star Ryan Arcidiacono busted to the hole for a layup. The Bulls’ dribble penetration was terrific.
All the while, Thibodeau raged on the sidelines, then again on the bench.
His target was Barrett, for allowing two straight backdoor cuts for Bulls buckets — the latter one by Lauri Markkanen. Thibodeau could be seen screaming at Barrett as he sat there. Thibodeau’s temper continued toward the referees and he picked up a second-quarter technical for screaming at the referees, but was smiling at the end.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman