The Knicks lost their best player – and found their balance.
Although top scorer Marcus Morris switched to the Clippers – and was no longer available for a series of clutch shots – the Knicks recovered from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and reached the best winning streak in three games on Thursday 105- 103 magic victories in Madison Square Garden.
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 22 points and eight rebounds, while Taj Gibson reached a season high with 19 points. With 15 points, nine assists and seven thefts, Elfrid Payton defended the team's defensive lead, while RJ Barrett scored 12 points more after an ankle injury.
The Knicks (16-36) have played 5: 5 in the last 10 games and 5: 5 in the last 12: 18 games since interim coach Mike Miller took over the 4:18 wreck from David Fizdale.
Randle made the first crack when filling Morris' sneakers, scoring six of the first 12 points of the Knicks and halving with 10 points and five rebounds. Gibson did his part, scoring 12 points in the first half – he hadn't scored more than 12 since January 12 – while shooting 6 out of 9. Barrett, who missed the last nine games, returned with all his explosiveness and put on 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in the first half.
The Knicks' defense effort made it easier to collect points. The Knicks were dealing with a team that could only record 12 league sales per game. The Knicks produced six steals, Payton compiled four in just eight minutes, while Randle added two blocks.
Dennis Smith Jr. found Mitchell Robinson for an alley-oop, then fed Barrett for a fast break layup and brought the Knicks to 26-14. Though the Knicks failed to make 3 points, they led 30-19 after a quarter.
Fighting beyond the perimeter – opening 1 of 8 – kept Orlando close, but Barrett's aggression increased the lead to 13 in the last minute of the half. Although the Magic took the lead 10: 0 for the first time since the first minute, Barrett stormed the floor with a three-point game to keep the Knicks under control, increasing to 54: 47 at half-time.
After Nikola Vucevic left the field with 8 of 11 goals, the Magic took the lead in the middle of the third quarter with 66: 65. The teams played the tug of war with the lead for the next few minutes, until Orlando went 7-0 to 83-76 in the fourth round.
When the Magic extended the lead to 10, Wayne Ellington surprisingly showed up with three 3-points to revive the crowd. Payton linked the game to another 3-pointer with 5:30 remaining and set up Randle's jump-start jumper less than a minute later.
The Magic had a chance to finish the game in the final seconds, but Evan Fournier flipped the ball over after stumbling.
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