Randle, youth shine as Knicks snap five-game losing streak in best win of season

David Vertsberger

On an afternoon where the New York Knicks took on the third-best team in the NBA without their leading scorer and defender, with the game hanging on their third-overall pick facing the shot he's struggled with all season in the closing seconds, everything broke right to snap their five-game winning streak, 124-121, over the Miami Heat.

Julius Randle scored seven in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter to the Knicks' 11, making big defensive plays in the clutch as well after a slow start to the game. Backing Randle was a pair of New York's recent draft picks, R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox, who contributed 23 and 17 points respectively. Barrett played a team-high 40 minutes, went 8-10 from the free throw line despite his rookie year struggles at the charity stripe, and consistently made the Heat pay in transition. Knox broke out of a shooting slump with a 6-for-8 shooting performance, including a putback dunk and back-to-back three balls that propelled the Knicks in the first half.

New York's defense continued to struggle, especially guarding behind the three-point arc. The Heat shot 40% from deep on 35 attempts, many of which wide open. Jimmy Butler had 25 points and Kendrick Nunn contributed 20 to lead Miami, which led by as much as 15, but the Knicks were able to keep responding and make enough consecutive late-game stops to pull through.

With Marcus Morris and Frank Ntilikina out for this contest, others had to step up to put their team in position to win. Kadeem Allen comfortably slipped into the backup point guard role and put up 10 points, while Taj Gibson backed up his perfect showing against the New Orleans Pelicans with a 14-point effort on  5-for-6 shooting from the floor. He made huge plays on the glass as well, with timely offensive rebounds and tap-outs such as one off Barrett's miss that ran down the clock to 0.5, leaving the Heat no time to put up an honest three-point try to tie the game at the buzzer.

This was New York's best win of the season, desperately needed at this juncture. The Knicks lost five straight coming into today and some of their young personnel's confidence. This team will go as far as their young core takes them, trouble being they ever so rarely combine for terrific games like this. The win also improves MIke Miller's record since taking over as head coach to 7-11, a noticeable improvement with multiple impressive upsets. 

There may only be a few long-term takeaways, but they should have Knicks fans more optimistic than usual. Miller looks like the real deal thus far, and 18 games is a solid sample size. Barrett's free-throw shooting woes may be behind him, with a 74% clip since Christmas, not including tonight's outing. Knox still has a ton of potential, and only made one really poor defensive play in his 19 minutes. Allen has proven for two straight seasons he's a competent NBA backup. 

A mid-January upset win against the Heat may mean nothing once all 82 games are played, but this brief solace should help quell the screams and ignite some hope in Knicks fans as they enter a home-heavy schedule with the trade deadline looming.

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