Evan Fournier comes up big as Knicks defeat 76ers
The Knicks’ starting lineup already had been announced — with RJ Barrett in it — when he left the court just before game time and was ruled out because of a non-COVID illness Sunday. That put Immanuel Quickley in the starting lineup and Evan Fournier in the rotation.
That may have been how Fournier got on the floor, but his play was the reason coach Tom Thibodeau kept him there nearly to the final buzzer. Fournier — playing his most minutes (23:58) since Oct. 30 — scored a season-high 17 points as the Knicks beat the 76ers, 108-97, at the Garden.
Asked when he knew he’d be in the rotation, Fournier said, “During the anthem. I’m serious. During the anthem I was right here, I was actually changing. I was about to change my jersey, and RJ came back. He was not feeling well.”
Playing the second game of a tough back-to-back set less than 24 hours removed from an overtime loss to the Clippers, the Knicks (29-26) came back from a 21-point first-quarter deficit, outscored Philadelphia 32-18 in the fourth quarter and snapped the 76ers’ eight-game road winning streak.
Julius Randle had 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Jalen Brunson added 21 points and seven assists.
Fournier and Deuce McBride totaled 16 points in the fourth quarter and 31 in the game, shooting a combined 8-for-14 from three-point range. McBride had 14 points, just his second double-figures scoring night of the season.
The Knicks trailed 35-15 but scored 17 straight points to get back in the game. Trailing 82-76, they scored 10 straight points to begin a 15-2 run (capped by Fournier’s three-pointer) that put them ahead 91-84 with 6:35 left in the fourth quarter.
“Our bench was great the whole game,” Randle said. “Guys like Isaiah [Hartenstein], Deuce, Evan, they made big plays down the stretch. [Whenever the 76ers] got the ball out of Jalen’s hands or got the ball out of my hands, whatever it was, they made themselves available. And they made great plays, great shots, and competed on the defensive end. It was a total team effort tonight.”
Joel Embiid had 31 points and 14 rebounds for the 76ers (34-18), who shot 4-for-7 from three-point range in their 35-point first quarter and 3-for-18 the rest of the game.
Barrett’s inability to play presented an opportunity for Fournier, who had appeared in only two of the Knicks’ previous 13 games.
With the trade deadline just days away, Fournier’s future in New York may be uncertain, but for a night he was a key part of a victory, celebrating huge shots and assists. But despite the ovations, he was under no illusions that he had earned a spot going forward.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think he’s set on his nine-man rotation. It was like a fun one-night stand. We’ll see. Throughout the course of the season, sometimes guys have injuries, sometimes they get sick. I’m sure I’ll get another chance to play, but I don’t think he’s going to change anything.”
Said Thibodeau, “I love Evan’s demeanor. He’s got a great attitude. Great approach. Very professional. I see the work that he puts in each day. Each day he’s ready, and when he’s called upon, he plays well.”
With Denis P. Gorman