Alec Burks stepped up in his first game back from injury to deliver the Knicks a critical win against the Spurs to stay in the mix for the fourth seed.
The New York Knicks (39-31) defeated the San Antonio Spurs (33-37) 102-98 a day after clinching their first playoff berth since the 2012–13 NBA season. The Knicks have been one of the league’s biggest surprises this season, but for those who have watched this team closely all season, they saw this possibly coming to fruition months ago.
The Knicks are in a nightly battle for seeding in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They entered Thursday night as the sixth seed and, despite winning, remain at no. 6 with wins by the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat. The Knicks, Hawks, and Heat are all doing everything they can to avoid the surging Milwaukee Bucks in a 3-6 matchup, making tonight’s victory that much more important looking at the playoff picture.
The first half was quite ugly offensively. Knicks first-time All-Star Julius Randle scored 14 of the team’s 20 points in the first quarter, which ended up being his point total for the half after going scoreless in the second quarter. The team shot a pedestrian 40.5% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc, but San Antonio too had a miserable shooting half shooting 34.0% overall.
Alec Burks, the Knicks’ spark plug off the bench tonight in resurgent veteran point guard Derrick Rose’s absence, also ended the first half with 14 points, giving New York a first-half lead of 46-43. His performance tonight was monumental, as Rose’s recent scoring punch off the bench has begun to garner him some attention in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
Second Half Barrett Comes Alive
New York came out flat in the second half, and San Antonio could not miss. The Spurs, after going up huge in the third period, squandered away a 17-point lead after the Knicks closed the quarter on a 15-2 run. R.J. Barrett, the Knicks’ standout sophomore, hit two massive corner threes that helped swing the momentum in New York’s favor. But after the offensive onslaught to begin the second half from the Spurs, the Knicks’ relentless defense locked in and carried the team during the final frame of the game.
Randle remained cold after his red-hot start, only shooting 7-of-21 (33.3%) from the field, but the former Kentucky Wildcat came up huge in the clutch, hitting a mid-range jumper from the foul line extended, giving the Knicks a 98-94 lead with under a minute remaining. He ended the contest with a near triple-double—25 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists despite the shooting woes.
Big Shot Burks looking playoff ready? pic.twitter.com/4CewzVE7SU
— The Knicks Wall – x (@TheKnicksWall) May 14, 2021
The heroes from tonight were undoubtedly R.J. Barrett and Alec Burks, though. Burks ended the game with a 30-point double-double tallying 10 rebounds on the night of his return from three straight absences and shooting 11-of-20 (55%) from the field. He and Barrett recorded five triples apiece and combined for a ridiculous 52.6% from three-point land. Barrett ended with 24 points, nine rebounds, and five assists after having one of his worst shooting games in Tuesday’s loss against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The effort and performance from Burks and Barrett tonight cannot be undermined. The ‘Bockers were without Rose and saw Randle struggle from the field after the first quarter. With the Heat also winning their game tonight, earning the fourth (or fifth) seed will be that much more difficult. But without this win, more than likely the Knicks would end as the sixth seed.
For now, a 4-5 matchup with Atlanta remains feasible.