Julius Randle and RJ Barrett carried the night and the load as each played over 40 minutes and combined for 54 points.
But rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, in his third NBA game, brought the Knicks home in the fourth quarter as they squeaked a 113-108 road victory Monday in Atlanta to end their four-game trip to 3-. 1.
Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are now a 4-3 winning ball club – by far the hottest NBA team in New York after winning four of their last five games.
It’s the first time the Knicks have a seven-game winning record since 2012-13 – when they won 54 games and last made the playoffs.
“We are mentally tough and we did not leave this match [a loss vs. Toronto] stop us, ” Barrett said. “It was a great road trip overall.”
With the Knicks under-15 with 4:40 left in the third quarter, Thibodeau turned to his young rookie and paired him with new closer Austin Rivers. Thibodeau did not eliminate Quickley until there were a few seconds left in the game.
And the coach was rewarded again for his instincts as Quickley finished with 16 points in 19 minutes – 10 in the final period.
As is his talent, Quickley drew a massive three-stroke foul on Atlanta superstar Trae Young with 2:34 left, winning all three free throws. Quickley also stripped Young late, outdoing the All-Star in times of crisis.
The 22-year-old from Kentucky is already playing like a crafty veteran.
“The coaches give me a lot of confidence, my teammates inspire me to give me a lot of confidence,” said Quickley, who was 4 of 6 on the field and 6 of 6 on the free throw line. “When you have great guys around you it’s really easy to get comfortable in tough situations.
“When a coach sticks you in the fourth quarter, that means he trusts you, especially as a point guard when you have to lead the guys. I hope I will continue to do so. “
Quickley made a solid backcourt pairing with Rivers, who takes on the role of finisher. Rivers hit a whopping 3 points with less than a minute left, then drew a charge on Young.
Rivers was huge in closing Saturday’s big win in Indiana, but the Knicks coach decided to keep rolling on Quickley.
“He can shoot,” Thibodeau said when asked why he stayed with Quickley. “Just the way he’s approaching the game. Attitude, approach. He has this skill that opens everything and he’s a student of the game. We were struggling and we found a group that started and we rode with them. ”
“He’s very confident,” said Barrett, who was formidable with 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. “That might be half the battle.”
Randle scored 12 points in the first quarter and finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists, falling a flat before a triple-double to continue his All-Star caliber season. The Hawks were the first team not to overtake the emerging Knicks star.
In his previous six seasons Randle has only lost clubs and now he tastes sweet, thanking his new head coach.
“It’s surprising, but I like the confidence of our group,” said Randle. “Every game we play in, we expect to win. And I think that is also a testimony for the coaches. Thibs everyday is upon us. He’s a great leader for us and has given us a game plan that we believe in every day. ”
The Knicks fell 15 behind before rallying in the 1.30 hour final of the third quarter. Kevin Knox hit a 3 point for his first bucket of the night. Quickley was blown by former Duke, Cam Reddish, for a layup. And then Knox hit another 3 – a corner buzzer-beater after which he raised his arms in celebration – as the Knicks reduced the deficit to 88-84 after three quarters.
Quickley scored on a float to start the fourth quarter, going 88-86 and he became the deceased hero – not Young, despite having 31 points.
“We didn’t play very well, but we found a way to win,” said Thibodeau. “I love the fight on the team.”