Julius Randle played an early starring role and R.J. Barrett did his job with second-half minutes restored as they combined to lead the Knicks to a crucial win over a playoff opponent on Thursday night.
After Randle was named a reserve All-Star for the second time in three seasons, he scored 19 of his 23 points in the first two quarters. Barrett came off the bench earlier in the week to score 20 of his 30 points after halftime. And the Knicks closed out an important 106-104 win over the Heat at the Garden.
Quentin Grimes added 17 points as the Knicks (28-25) — playing without starting guard and All-Star forward Jalen Brunson (non-COVID illness) — moved one game behind the Heat for the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Region.
Barrett went 13-for-23 in 41 efficient minutes after being benched late in the game for the final 6:41 of regulation and all of overtime Tuesday in a loss to the Lakers.
“Just go in and get ready the next day,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Barrett before the game. “We know he is 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 team that was out there gave us the best shot.
“Most of the time it’s game over, so you just go out and play.”
All-Star forward Bam Adebayo scored 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, scored 12 in the first 12 minutes and 19 in the first half. The Knicks led by as many as 13 in the opening period, but the Heat tied it 28-22 after the first quarter and took the lead on Max Strus’ 3-pointer just four minutes into the second.
The Heat went up by five on another Strus 3-pointer three minutes later, but Randle’s three-point play put the Knicks back in front in the final minute of the first half before his outlet dunk over Quentin Grimes seconds later helped make it 51- 48. at the break.
Barrett scored 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 straight 3s in less than minute and Kyle Lowry knocked down another to cap a 19-4 run for a 67-66 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
Isaiah Hartenstein’s three-pointer tied the Knicks again with 1:41 left before two free throws by Evan Fournier (back in the rotation with Brunson out of the lineup) and back-to-back layups by Deuce McBride (eight points) and Grimes cut the lead 77-72 for the Knicks entering the last period.
A solid stretch by Barrett and the second four-man unit to open the fourth — with another 3-pointer by McBride, a left layup by Barrett and four points by Obie Toppin — gave the Knicks a 92-81 lead with 7:23. left. Adebayo’s baseline jumper tied the Heat at 2:50, but Grimes’ left-handed 3-pointer made it 100-95 a minute later.
A steal by Adebayo and two free throws after a hard foul by Randle closed the gap to 102-101 with 52.8 left, before a beautiful sequence from Barrett to Grimes to Hartenstein for a dunk restored the lead to the three. Hartenstein then intercepted a pass and Grimes fed Randle for another layup 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 left, the officials 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 hit the rim as time expired.