Sometimes, it’s not about beauty, but the result, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the New York Knicks got the result they ultimately needed.
After blowing a 14-point early-fourth-quarter advantage and trailing with under two minutes remaining, the Knicks (7-8) closed out the Orlando Magic (6-8) with an 11-3 run to win their second-straight game, 91-84.
“The ability to take a punch, get up and keep fighting and find a way to win, that’s a big part of this league so I love the toughness we showed down the stretch,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Just a day removed from beating down the Boston Celtics by 30, this was the first time in over three years that the Knicks swept both games of a back-to-back.
It was as ugly a win as they come with both teams struggling mightily from the field. The Knicks shot 35.6% from the floor and 5-of-27 from three-point range while the Magic went just 33.7% from the floor and 12-of-38 from beyond the arc.
“It was a tough one for us, honestly,” Julius Randle told MSG Network after the game. “Back-to-backs are tough always but two early games are even tougher.”
Randle wasn’t exempt from the rough day as he struggled mightily from the floor, hitting just 5-of-19 attempts. However, he still led the way with 21 points and 17 rebounds.
“I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean, goodness,” he said. “When the shots are not falling, you have to find other ways to affect the game. For me, that’s my defense… just stayed mentally strong through the whole game.”
RJ Barrett was with Randle every step of the way adding 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting with 10 rebounds, including a key layup in the final minute to help the Knicks pull away.
New York’s defense was strong yet again for a majority of the day and strengthened quickly after allowing the Magic — mainly Nikola Vucevic — to get off to a hot start.
After Vucevic scored Orlando’s first nine points of the game on his way to a 4-of-5 start from the field, the Knicks held the center to just 15 points on 6-of-11 for the rest of the day.
Mitchell Robinson managed to hang tough with Orlando’s traditional Knicks-killer while posting six points and 10 rebounds on a day in which he was questionable to even play. During Sunday’s blowout win in Boston, he spent most of the day hobbling after a couple of hard falls.
Using an 11-0 run sparked by a quick flurry of nine points in five minutes by Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks played with a multi-possession lead for most of the afternoon.
Quickley finished the day with 11 points and two assists in 15 minutes of work.
For the second-straight game, they kept its opponent to under 40 points in the first half — the Magic had 38 while shooting just 32% from the field — making it the first time New York has done that in over seven years.
After taking a 14-point lead early in the fourth, the script flipped as the Magic reeled off a 16-3 run to cut the Knicks’ deficit to one with 6:24 remaining. Just 40 seconds later after a Barrett layup, an Aaron Gordon three-pointer tied the game.
Back and forth they went, though the Magic didn’t hold a lead until there was 1:41 remaining when off a jump-ball, Terrance Ross drained a falling heave of a three-pointer as the shot clock expired to go up 81-80 — their first lead since 9-6 in the first quarter.
After Randle hit one of two free-throws to tie it, he regained the lead for the Knicks with a driving layup with 56 ticks to go.
“I loved the way he competed,” Thibodeau said. “It was one of those games where they did a great job in guarding him and he kept fighting and fighting and fighting and he did other things to help us win. His rebounding was off the charts.”
At the other end, Barrett tipped a kick-out pass from Aaron Gordon to spark a break that resulted in the guard hitting another layup to go up four just 10 seconds later before closing the game out at the free-throw line — which wasn’t easy considering the Knicks went 24-of-34 from the charity stripe.