Tom Thibodeau often lauds his Knicks’ roster for its versatility, with the ability to run the offense through All-Star power forward Julius Randle and veteran guard Alec Burks, if needed.
Such a necessity never felt more immediate this season than it did Thursday night, when those two players fronted the Knicks to a 94-93 victory over Orlando with their top three point guards — Elfrid Payton, Derrick Rose and rookie Immanuel Quickley — all unavailable.
Randle recorded his second triple-double in six days and third of the season with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 17 assists as the Knicks climbed back to .500 again at 21-21, matching last year’s win total (21-45). He became the first Knick to record at least three triple-doubles in one season since Micheal Ray Richardson posted seven in 1981-82.
Burks moved into the starting lineup and netted 21 points with 10 rebounds, while Frank Ntilikina also started and finished with 13 points.
Usual starter Reggie Bullock also drilled six 3-pointers for 20 points in 36 minutes off the bench and recorded a key steal in the closing seconds for the Knicks, who will face the first-place 76ers at the Garden on Sunday.
The Knicks led by as many as 16 points in the third before a 19-2 Magic run gave Orlando a 75-74 lead barely one minute into the final quarter. The Knicks regained the lead on Ntilikina’s corner 3-pointer with 3:49 remaining, and Randle sank two jumpers as part of a 10-0 Knicks surge for a 92-87 lead with under two minutes to play.
The Magic won a late jump ball after tying up Bullock and had a chance to win the game in their final possession, but Bullock intercepted Evan Fournier’s pass with 5.9 seconds remaining.
The Knicks had faced the top two teams in the Eastern Conference standings on the road earlier in the week, dropping close games at Brooklyn and Philadelphia on back-to-back nights.
Of course, the Nets were without superstar forward Kevin Durant and the Sixers played without MVP candidate Joel Embiid. The Knicks weren’t missing anyone of that caliber in those games, but they didn’t have Payton (hamstring) or Rose (health and safety protocols), as well as the continued absence of starting center Mitchell Robinson (hand).
Quickley was added to that injury list Thursday night, sitting out with an ankle issue suffered Tuesday against the 76ers.
The sliding Magic (nine straight losses) got back Fournier (23 points) and Aaron Gordon (17) from injuries, but they also were thin at the point guard spot — playing without Markelle Fultz (knee), Michael-Carter Williams (illness) and rookie Cole Anthony (ribs).
“Next man up, and we’ll see how it goes,” Thibodeau said about his team before the game. “That’s exactly it, we have more than enough to win with, and we have guys that can play multiple positions. When you’re called upon, get out there and play well.
“Everyone has a job to do and if we do the right things, we’ll have a good chance to win.”
Burks scored eight quick points in the first quarter, but a 15-2 run by the Magic put them up by 10 midway through the period.
Randle missed five of his first six shots, but he notched seven assists in the first quarter alone, exceeding his team-best full game average (5.8) for the season. Barrett nailed his final four shots of the quarter after missing his first two to help the Knicks close within 26-24 after one.
Burks ran the point with Ntilikina sitting down to open the second, and he scored six of the Knicks’ first eight points as they regained the lead en route to a 45-44 advantage at intermission.
Ntilikina had missed 16 consecutive shots spread over five games, but he nailed two 3-pointers — while Bullock and Barrett drained one apiece -— early in the third quarter. The Knicks pushed their lead to 16, but the Magic closed the session with a 10-0 run for a 72-66 game entering the fourth.
Originally published at https://nypost.com/2021/03/18/julius-randle-alec-burks-lead-knicks-past-pesky-magic/ on .