Interim coach Mike Miller and his Knicks needed this one. So did Julius Randle.
The Knicks got big moments from their most recent lottery picks, rookie RJ Barrett and slumping Kevin Knox. But it was Randle who came up huge late in his first game back after the death of his grandmother to lead the Knicks to a 124-121 stunner over the Heat before a frenzied afternoon crowd at the Garden that broke a five-game losing streak.
The Knicks rallied from 14 points down late in the third quarter Sunday to beat a Miami club they had fallen behind by as many as 34 points in a late-December rout.
Randle, after missing the previous two games, finished with 26 points. He was 10 of 21 from the field and scored 11 fourth-quarter points when the Knicks outscored the powerful Heat 40-21.
A moment of silence for his grandmother was held before tipoff.
“It’s extremely tough,” the Texas-born Randle said of the past few days. “Lot of highs, a lot of lows. My grandmother left an incredible legacy and mark on my life and my family. It’s been tough. Still be tough. But tonight was special. I really felt her out there.”
It was a wild final minute right down to the final fraction of a second. Barrett, who played fearlessly down the stretch, corralled a loose ball with three seconds left after Jimmy Butler coughed it up on a drive to all but seal it. Barrett, who finished with 23 points, hit a free throw to give the Knicks a three-point bulge. Free-throw shooting had been Barrett’s Achilles’ heel, but he made 8 of 10 Sunday.
Maybe it was the new headband Barrett donned for the first time this season.
“It’s huge,” said Barrett, who also secured a key rebound on a late free-throw miss by Jimmy Butler. “They’re really one of the best teams in the league. We were able to fight it out and get one.”
But even after Barrett clutched the last loose ball, it wasn’t over. Off an inbounds with 0.5 seconds left, Bam Adebayo flung up a shot that went through the basket, but after a review, was waved off because it came a shade after the buzzer, allowing the Knicks to move to 11-29.
“I just told the guys, I’m so happy for them, so proud of them for hanging in there and battling back,” said Miller, now 7-11 as interim coach. “We bent a couple times but didn’t break.
With Marcus Morris (neck) missing his fourth straight game, Randle had to step up at the end. He drained a right-wing 3-pointer to put the Knicks into the lead for good at 116-114 with 2:10 left. It was Randle’s first 3-pointer in the fourth quarter this season.
Randle made two free throws to give the Knicks a one-point lead, then scored on a power drive for a 122-119 lead with 38 seconds left.
“He took it up a level in the second half and played with such great force and poise, Miller said.
The calls weren’t going the Knicks’ way and Butler was fouled with 21 seconds after meager contact on a 3-point attempt. He had a chance to tie the score, but missed the third attempt, ruining his 25-point game.
The Knicks wouldn’t have been in it in the second half if not for Knox, who has been struggling. He scored 17 points off the bench as he lit it up in the second quarter after being quiet for weeks.
That made the win even sweeter.
“I had a little rough patch but never got too down, stayed confident,” said Knox, who was 6 of 8 from the field. “Guys kept me up, the vets like Taj [Gibson] told me to keep being aggressive.”
Early on, Knox made a nice move to the basket to draw a foul and create free throws to start his splurge. Then he made two straight 3-pointers and scored again on a drive down the left side of the lane. Knox had 13 points in eight minutes of the first half after averaging 4.6 points in the previous nine games. He entered the game averaging 7.7 points on the season.
“The people around me, my circle, my team, staying extra late. I got shots with Wayne [Ellington] the other day,” Knox said. “Shooting with other guys who are good shooters and can teach me things so I can shoot at a high level. It’s putting in extra work and staying positive that is helping me out.”
After a poor first half in which he missed all four of his shots, Reggie Bullock had a solid final two quarters, finishing with 16 points. His pull-up 3-pointer with three minutes left got the Knicks within 106-105 and Randle and Barrett carried them home.
In the third quarter, “Let’s Go Heat” chants could be heard but not at the finish.
“It was crazy,” Barrett said. “I love how the Knicks fans quieted the Miami fans. It was amazing.”
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