The Knicks avoided a terrible collapse against the NBA’s worst team with a home win over the Timberwolves on Sunday night.

In their final home game without fans, the New York Knicks (15-16) hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-24), who came into the Garden with the worst record in the NBA. New York pulled out a win after dropping their last game in Orlando and having three days off.

This was a strange contest that looked ugly early but ended up coming down to the wire as the Knicks’ 16-point lead dwindled all the way down to a one-possession game. Late free throws and some unlucky misses for Minnesota allowed the Knicks to hold on to their win in a game that would have otherwise been a painful loss.

Offense was probably not what you would have expected to be highlighted going into this game, but the first two quarters had plenty of it with neither team slowing each other down. Elfrid Payton and Ricky Rubio were early catalysts for their respective teams.

A first-quarter challenge deployed by Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was used to keep starting center Nerlens Noel from getting his second foul with Mitchell Robinson unavailable to play. It was the first Knicks challenge in the first half, and it was successful.

While the Knicks struggled to get stops early in the first, their patented Thibs defense stepped up later in the quarter. The offense continued to be effective with balanced scoring throughout the roster. Off the bench, Alec Burks provided solid shooting throughout the quarter, but the offense was coming from all over. A solid first quarter from the whole team led to a 30-18 margin after one.

The lead in the second quarter fluctuated between five and 10 points seemingly the entire period. A late Randle three at the buzzer took the margin up to 11 with a score of 61-50. The Knicks brought balanced scoring with six players with at least seven points in the first half with Randle leading the way with 12. Rubio led all scorers with 15 in the first half.

The Timberwolves shot 8-of-18 from beyond the arc while the Knicks shot just 4-for-10. The majority of the offense tonight for the Knicks came at the rim with easy buckets off of nice ball movement.

Towns picked up a technical foul along with his four personal fouls early in the second half. The lead increased with Towns on the bench with the Knicks taking complete control. The Knicks offense was buzzing in the third quarter with all five Knicks starters reaching double figures with five minutes to go in the quarter.

The Timberwolves’ turnover problem led to easy baskets in transition and instant offense for the Knicks. This also led to a significant difference in free throw attempts with the Knicks nearly doubling the Wolves’ attempts at the line through three quarters. The Knicks defense continued to stifle the Minnesota offense with a dominant 26-21 third-quarter performance even after a late Juancho Hernangómez four-point play to cut the lead down to 16. The Knicks took an 87-71 lead into the fourth quarter.

A hot shooting start to the fourth quarter for the Wolves cut a lead, which had once been as much as 21, which down to 10 before a Thibs timeout to stop the bleeding. The hot start to the quarter for Minnesota continued as they got out to a 17-4 run to cut the lead to three. This offensive barrage was on the back of some hot three-point shooting as the Knicks appeared to unravel.

A game that was once looking like a blowout with a 20-point differential quickly became a battle as the Knicks could no longer find the offense that had once been so proficient. In the first six minutes of the quarter, the Knicks were only able to come up with four points. A big Randle and-one stopped the bleeding halfway through the fourth, followed with an and-one of his own for a tough bucket for R.J. Barrett. Points were left on the board with missed free throws on both three-point plays.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the way in the fourth quarter for Minnesota who responded with a big and one of their own. Fouls were a major issue in the fourth quarter with Nerlens Noel and Julius Randle both picking up their fifth foul with just over three minutes to play. The Wolves took the lead of the game with 2:48 for their first lead since early in the first quarter off a late Towns bucket.

Barrett, who was playing his first major fourth-quarter minutes in several games, looked aggressive in attacking the basket for late crunch time buckets.

Noel fouled out, becoming just the second Knick to foul out this season after Randle. Neither teams’ clutch time offense was very efficient with both Minnesota and New York missing repeatedly in the paint.

Randle, however, was able to hit clutch free throws to take the lead back for the Knicks with 30 seconds to play. Towns missed a very good look against one-time teammate Taj Gibson that just rimmed in and out.

Coincidentally, MSG Network’s color commentator Clyde Frazier said early that this game would come down to who could hit 100 first. He was right, as the Knicks finished with a score of 103-99 to win their fourth game out of five in their quest to get back to .500.

Takeaways

  • R.J. Barrett showed why he should be on the court at the end of games as he was aggressive in attacking the basket and scoring big buckets late in a close game. Barrett hit his recent average in minutes (25)—since the acquisition of Derrick Rose—with three minutes to play in the third quarter.

  • Taj Gibson being on the court late in the game may not be what you want, but he was working incredibly hard out there to play defense on KAT at the end of the game.
  • Rose and Quickley shot a combined 2-of-13 and were -12 and -10, respectively, which is not what you want to see from the new-look bench duo.
  • Randle finished with 25 points, 14, rebounds, and four assists and Barrett put up 21 points.
  • The Timberwolves shot 45.7% from three, which was the seventh time the Knicks have allowed an opponent to shoot 40% or better from deep. This is the first time they won, as the Knicks moved to 1-6 in those games.
  • Towns, a beast, dominated the fourth quarter, scoring 15 alone compared to the Knicks’ 16 fourth-quarter points as a team.

With fans back in the arena, the Knicks will host Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday at 7:30 ET as they once again continue their quest to get back up to .500.

 

Related Content

»READ: Julius Randle vindicates contract, leadership role in All-Star-worthy performance

»READ: Rowan’s regression: February has not been kind to R.J. Barrett

»READ: How Knicks’ veteran wing rotation hurts and helps team development