June 21, 2024

NEW YORK — When Tom Thibodeau’s coach’s challenge failed on an and-1 by Jimmy Butler with 3:40 to go in the third quarter Friday night, New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley took a peak at the scoreboard and saw his team trailing by 21 as the Miami Heat star sank the ensuing free throw.

“It’s a decision to mentally check out or not,” Quickley would say later. “It’s a decision to keep fighting. It’s a decision to tell yourself, ‘You got to keep fighting,’ no matter what.

“I did look at the score and say, ‘Dang,’ when I seen how much we was down, I literally said that. But then I got right back to it, seeing where I was at mentally and said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s try to get a comeback going.'”

And, sure enough, Quickley did get a comeback going. He buried a 3-pointer 21 seconds later, beginning a 38-15 game-closing run for the Knicks in a stunning 100-98 victory at a raucous, sold-out Madison Square Garden.

With the win, the Knicks (9-6) exacted a measure of revenge on their hated rivals, who ended their season in the second round of the playoffs last May. They also remained alive in the in-season tournament, as a loss would’ve eliminated them from the competition.

But the focus on this night was on the remarkable way the game flipped over the final 15 minutes, as Quickley (14 points), R.J. Barrett and Jalen Brunson (8 each) led the Knicks back in a game the Heat seemingly had put away.

“It’s special,” Brunson said of the feeling after pulling off such a comeback. “That was pretty cool, I’m not going to lie.”

Even with all of New York’s late heroics, Miami had a chance to win the game with the ball in the hands of — who else? — Butler after Brunson missed the second of two free throws with 11.1 seconds left. But Butler’s 3-point try from in front of New York’s bench rimmed out as time expired.

“I thought that one was going in,” Butler said. “I’m always going to go for the win. We’re going to live with the result, but I guarantee I’m making the next one.”

Quickley said he feared the worst.

“I’ve seen that shot go in, not just from him,” he said with a smile. “When you play basketball for so long, you see so many game-winners. They all look the same.

“I just said, ‘Please, please don’t go in.’ We worked so hard to get back [into it] …

“Thank God he [missed it].”

While there was plenty of attention to Butler’s miss and New York’s 29-11 advantage in the fourth quarter, both Thibodeau and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pointed to the end of the third, when Quickley scored six quick points to prevent a complete blowout, as pivotal.

“At the end of the third quarter we’re up 20-plus,” Spoelstra said. “[Then we had some] turnovers, a bad shot, we didn’t get back on defense and then all of a sudden it turned into a Quickley 3 and another Quickley 3 and then all sudden it gets to 13. That was the biggest shift right there. We had an opportunity to take that thing to 25, like we did the other night. And there’s a karma to it. We were so careless finishing that quarter.”

Added Thibodeau: “I thought the end of the third, we got our defense going a little bit, and the activity got us into the open floor.

“Then we had another stop and we got it to 14 and it gave us a little momentum. Then, once we got it inside 10, I thought our defense in the fourth quarter was really good.”

New York’s fourth win in its past five games also gives it a real chance of advancing to the quarterfinals of the IST. Its plus-18 point differential is currently the best of any second-place team in Eastern Conference group play, and a convincing win over the Charlotte Hornets here Tuesday would give them a very good chance of advancing as, at minimum, the wild card into the quarterfinals.

“It’s something to win,” Brunson said of the tournament. “As a competitor you always want to win whatever’s in front of you, no matter what it is. So it’s just another opportunity really.

“Put me anywhere, I’m playing whatever.”

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