Julius Randle played an early starring role and RJ Barrett did his thing with his second-half minutes restored as they combined to lead the Knicks to a pivotal win over a playoff-race opponent on Thursday night.
After Randle was named an All-Star reserve for the second time in three seasons, he scored 19 of his 23 points in the first two quarters. Barrett emerged from his benching earlier in the week to score 20 of his 30 points after halftime. And the Knicks closed out a key 106-104 victory over the Heat at the Garden.
Quentin Grimes added 17 points as the Knicks (28-25) — playing minus starting point guard and All-Star snub Jalen Brunson (non-COVID illness) — moved one game behind the Heat for the sixth playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Barrett shot 13-for-23 over 41 effective minutes following his late-game benching for the final 6:41 of regulation and all of overtime Tuesday in a loss to the Lakers.
“Just come in and get ready the next day,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Barrett before the game. “We know he’s a critical part of our team. We need him to play well. But we’re always going to put the team first and we thought the group that was out there gave us the best shot.
“Most of the times he’s finishing the game, so just get out there and play.”
All-Star forward Bam Adebayo netted 32 points and Tyler Herro had 25 for Miami, which had won 17 of its previous 25 games.
Randle, who trails only Luka Doncic among all NBA players in first-quarter points this season, netted a 12 in the first 12 minutes and 19 in the first half. The Knicks led by as many as 13 in the opening session, but the Heat drew within 28-22 after the first quarter and they took the lead on Max Strus’ 3-pointer barely four minutes into the second.
The Heat went up by five on another Strus triple three minutes later, but Randle’s converted three-point play pushed the Knicks ahead again in the final minute of the first half before his outlet dunk from Quentin Grimes seconds later helped provide a 51-48 lead at intermission.
Barrett netted 11 on 5-for-7 shooting in the third, including nine in an 11-0 run to open the second half, as the Knicks pushed their cushion to 14. But Herro buried three consecutive 3s in less than one minute and Kyle Lowry knocked down another to culminate a 19-4 splurge for a 67-66 Heat turnaround lead with under three minutes remaining.
Isaiah Hartenstein’s converted three-point play drew the Knicks even again with 1:41 to go, before two free throws by Evan Fournier (back in the rotation with Brunson sidelined) and consecutive corner treys by Deuce McBride (eight points) and Grimes led to a 77-72 lead for the Knicks entering the final period.
A solid stretch by Barrett and the four-man second unit to open the fourth — featuring another 3-pointer by McBride, a lefty put-back by Barrett and four points by Obi Toppin — had the Knicks up 92-81 with 7:23 left. Adebayo’s baseline jumper drew the Heat back within two at the 2:50 mark, but Grimes’ left-side 3-pointer made it 100-95 one minute later.
A steal by Adebayo and two free throws following a hard foul by Randle closed the gap to 102-101 with 52.8 ticks to go, before a pretty passing sequence from Barrett to Grimes to Hartenstein for a dunk restored the lead to three. Hartenstein then intercepted a pass and Grimes fed Randle for another jam for a five-point cushion with five seconds on the clock.
After Strus nailed another quick 3-pointer to make it 106-104 Knicks with 2.2 seconds to go, the refs initially called Adebayo for a foul on Randle as he received the inbounds pass. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra’s challenge that Randle lost the ball without being fouled was upheld, but Herro’s 3-point attempt from the corner rang off the rim as time expired.