It was encapsulated in one tweet, coming from NBA veteran and Knicks broadcaster Wally Szczerbiak.
“Best win of the year,” Szczerbiak wrote on Sunday, after the Knicks rallied from two first-half deficits of 10 points and took control of the Clippers in the second half on their way to a 106-100 win over a team many consider to be a favorite in the Western Conference.
Certainly, the implications of the game were enormous, with the Knicks now on Game No. 5 of a six-game Western Conference road trip, one that was expected to derail the team once it came around. Instead, the win over the Clippers guarantees the Knicks will return home with a .500 trip—and the team has a chance to go 4-2 if it can beat the Lakers on Tuesday.
In the race for homecourt advantage, the win keeps the Knicks a full game ahead of both the Hawks and the Heat. Miami won in Boston on Sunday, pushing the Celtics three games behind the Knicks with just four to play. A combination of one more win and one more Celtics loss would ensure the Knicks avoid the No. 7 seed and the NBA play-in tournament that comes with it.
Derrick Rose Scorched Clips in 1st Half
What was most impressive about the Clippers win was just how badly the Knicks needed it, coming off back-to-back blowout losses in Denver (18 points) and Phoenix (23 points). The Knicks seemed to be unraveling late in this most surprising year, looking at the possibility of heading into the playoffs on a down note.
Instead, they relied on Derrick Rose (19 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the first half) to keep the team afloat early, and solid all-around games from Reggie Bullock (24 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 5-for-12 on 3-pointers) and R.J. Barrett (18 points, 7-for-18 shooting, 4-for-7 shooting from the 3-point line).
The Knicks combined to limit Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to 47 points on 17-for-46 shooting (36.9%). Julius Randle, the Knicks top player, struggled with his shooting for much of the game but was 3-for-5 with six points down the stretch of the fourth quarter to hold off L.A. and secure the win.
Barrett had a key block of George with 1:23 to go in the game.
“We know in the fourth quarter the intensity is going to be different,’’ Barrett said. “Derrick Rose did a helluva job in the first half. Bullock, he stepped up huge all game. Ju’ wasn’t shooting it well all night, then he comes up clutch with big shots at the end. Collectively as a unit, we did a great job.’’
Thibodeau Getting Knicks to Play His Style
Sure coach Tom Thibodeau’s ears rang when Clippers coach Ty Lue—a fellow colleague of Thibs’ in Boston—sang the praises of the Knicks’ D in his postgame presser.
“They just wore us down with their defense, their physicality,’’ Lue said. That’s come to define Knicks basketball in this improbable season, which held the Clippers to 43.0% shooting and a point total that was tied for L.A.’s fewest since April 1.
Thibodeau now wants to continue this type of performance through the remainder of the regular season.
“The heart of the team has been special,’’ Thibodeau said. “The challenge for us was to be hungry and don’t change now. We’re learning a lot from this trip and all season long as the season progressed. The toughness to win on the road and playing against these teams is telling us a lot.
“The big thing is everybody has been doubting this team all along. We knew going on the trip we had been playing good basketball but we were going to have to take it up as the season ends.’’