Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) shoots as Chicago Bulls center...

Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) shoots as Chicago Bulls center Daniel Theis (27) defends during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Credit: AP/Vincent Carchietta

The Knicks were up by 18 points on the Chicago Bulls in the first quarter Wednesday night and it took only a few minutes into the second quarter for Tom Thibodeau to see that things were not right. So he called timeout and lit into one of his stars, RJ Barrett.

What Thibodeau saw perhaps was the 20-year-old Barrett and some of the other Knicks have not been through the rigors of a postseason chase. The 18-point lead was wiped out with 15 seconds left in the third quarter the Knicks were down, needing a bucket there to put them in front again.

But whether it was the fire of Thibodeau, the leadership of some of his long-time veteran cohorts or the explosive offense of Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks were able to pull away for a 113-94 win at Madison Square Garden.

If Thibodeau saw it and said it, his players were ready for it and just as angry.

"I see my job as to tell them the truth as I see it," Thibodeau said. "You can get beat — the players in this league are great — they can beat you on a great play. But it shouldn’t happen over and over again. I know when we’re at our best that doesn’t happen. It wasn’t only the player who got beat on the back door. I always say that our ball pressure and our weak-side awareness should cover up for any mistakes that we make. So it was a compilation of errors and to win in this league, that can’t happen."

"One, that’s really his job to hold us accountable," Barrett said. "We don’t really take it personally. I was mad at myself, too. I knew before he said anything. It was funny, I think I got back-doored, he called timeout and he actually ran a play for me coming out of timeout. It’s not personal. We’re trying to win the game."

The win put the Knicks alone again in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with the Atlanta Hawks losing in Philadelphia.

Surviving this one was critical for the Knicks. After seeing their nine-game winning streak come to an end Monday against Phoenix, the Knicks were in danger of squandering this lead against a Bulls squad that has struggled and fallen out of the top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference standings and were without their star, Zach Lavine. This was the last game of a six-game homestand for the Knicks and they now will head out on a six-game road trip — including five of the top eight teams in the West.

While the Knicks had their struggles at times — including a rare poor shooting night for Derrick Rose, with Rose orchestrating the offense and Taj Gibson spearheading the defense the Knicks began the fourth quarter with a flurry. Those veterans set the tone and rookie Obi Toppin and Quickley came along for the ride. Quickly scored 11 of his 13 points in a five-minute span early in the fourth quarter.

With the lead secured Julius Randle, who led the Knicks with 34 points, and Barrett (22 points, seven rebounds and six assists) closed it out, raising the lead to as many as 15 in the fourth quarter.

"It is important," Thibodeau said before the game of the veteran leadership. "When you begin the season, you begin with the end in mind and you think about all the things you’re going to need along the way. And the veteran leadership is critical. So obviously, not only having Taj and Derrick, but guys like Reggie Bullock, Elfrid (Payton), Julius, Alec (Burks) — those guys are invaluable to the team.

"And then as you head down the stretch the one thing that we know is part of it, with the play-in games, everybody every night is playing for something whether it’s play-in, playoffs, positioning, home court throughout. I think that’s what makes it exciting. So the intensity of these games is similar to the playoffs. You have to be ready each and every night. Hopefully, you’re building the right habits along the way. But it’s critical."

Nerlens Noel, who is one of the few veterans with playoff experience, carried the defense with five blocked shots and four steals. That was something the Knicks needed and while defense has been a trademark for this team they had seen even with the recent success a bit of slippage.

"You’re still striving to be a 48-minute team and build the right habits," Thibodeau said. "The thing is obviously if you’re building a big lead you’re doing things well. But then you also have to understand how quickly leads dissipate because of the 3. So if you let your guard down and you’re not guarding, you get 10 points in a minute. So no lead is safe."

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