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RJ Barrett's buzzer-beating trey lifts Knicks after Julius Randle gives fans thumbs down

Knicks players celebrate after guard RJ Barrett hit

Knicks players celebrate after guard RJ Barrett hit a three-point basket at the buzzer to defeat the Celtics 108-105 in an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When the final buzzer sounded at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, the ball was in the air as RJ Barrett’s three-point attempt headed toward the basket. And as it banked in, giving the Knicks a 108-105 win over the Celtics in a game Boston had led by 25 points, a celebration erupted in what might have been one of the most thrilling wins of the season.

The players hugged each other. Barrett — who shot the ball from the right wing over the outstretched hand of Jayson Tatum — was knocked to the floor and didn’t even see the shot go in before being pulled to his feet by Julius Randle and Alec Burks and getting mobbed by teammates.

Two nights after going scoreless, Evan Fournier particularly had a right to celebrate after scoring a career-high 41 points, 13 in the fourth quarter.

But the celebration didn’t calm the feelings of one player in particular. Randle has heard the boos and the taunts directed his way the season after he carried the franchise to the postseason. So with the comeback underway and the crowd suddenly behind the Knicks, Randle reacted.

After scoring midway through the fourth quarter, as he jogged to the other end, he gave a thumbs-down gesture to the crowd, echoing the frustration of Mets players Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor last summer.

Asked what his message was, Randle said, "Shut the [expletive] up." When he was asked to clarify whom it was directed at, he said, "What are you talking about? To who? He just said ‘to who.’ You saw that. You saw what was going on with that."

This was a carryover of frustration for Randle, who had biting words for critics a day earlier, insisting he is content to have his team behind him.

The boos were understandable early as the Knicks began the game with what coach Tom Thibodeau called "low energy." They fell behind 57-32 with 3:53 remaining in the first half, and Randle was a target of their ire.

"He plays basketball," said Barrett, the hero despite a 4-for-15 shooting night in which he scored only 13 points. "What’d he have, another 20-point game tonight? He’s playing, man. He’s hooping no matter what. All we can control is what we do, us in the locker room, us in this organization. Just play together and try to win."

It marked the largest deficit the Knicks had come back from for a victory since March 14, 2004 (26 versus Milwaukee) and the team’s first buzzer-beating game-winner since J.R. Smith did it at Phoenix on Dec. 26, 2012. But to have heroics, they had to have struggles.

"It was probably a compilation of things," Thibodeau said. "We started off slowly and low energy, and we can’t do that. And sometimes you start off missing shots. They start off the game, we gave up a lob and then I think we had an air ball early on. And then we let that zap the energy. You can’t. We’re not gonna be perfect. We’ll make mistakes. But we can play hard.

"There’s no substitute for hustle. We talk about that all the time, so we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We gotta play hard as heck. Our margin of error is small. It’s still small. We got guys out, so we have to understand that. We gotta understand how hard we have to play every night. The thing I like is I like the perseverance, the fight to dig out of that hole. That’s not an easy thing to do and then to finish it off."

These two teams had begun the season with a crazy double-overtime game won by the Knicks that had fans spilling into the streets outside in celebration. Fournier has had three games of at least 30 points this season and all have come against the Celtics, the team he played for briefly last season before joining the Knicks as a free agent in the summer.

Fournier tied a franchise record held by Smith with 10 three-pointers — he was 10-for-14 from outside the arc and 15-for-25 overall — and Randle had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks (19-20), who shot 18-for-36 from three-point range. Immanuel Quickley added 16 points.

Tatum had 36 points and nine assists and Dennis Schroder added 20 for the Celtics (18-21).

Fournier connected on a corner three to give the Knicks a 99-98 lead with 2:07 left, but Tatum converted a three-point play. Randle missed from behind the arc but the Knicks kept possession, and a lob from Barrett to Mitchell Robinson for a dunk tied it at 101 with 1:19 remaining.

The Knicks’ next possession was an erratic mess, as they nearly lost the ball twice, but it ended up in Quickley’s hands and he banked in a runner for a two-point lead with 44.7 seconds left.

Barrett and Randle each missed one of two from the line to give Boston another chance in the final seconds. Tatum delivered, converting a pull-up jumper with 1.5 seconds left to tie the score.

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