The Knicks know there are nonbelievers out there. But they have been making surprising on-court statements right along, and they made a loud one on Sunday by taking down a Western Conference power on the road.
They rebounded from losses in Denver and Phoenix with a 106-100 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, their 13th victory in the last 16 games.
Derrick Rose provided 25 points and eight assists off the bench and Reggie Bullock scored 24 points as the Knicks continued their bid to earn the fourth seed, or at the very least stay away from seventh and the play-in tournament.
"I think it just shows our growth throughout the course of the year," said Julius Randle, who contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds.
"I think at the beginning of the year, we knew that we could compete with anybody as long as we stay to our principles and play together as a team. And now we feel like we can beat anybody. Every time we step on the court, we have confidence as a team that we’re going to win a game."
These postseason-bound Knicks (38-30) are one game ahead of Atlanta and Miami and three ahead of seventh-place Boston. They have only four games remaining, so barring a collapse, it appears the play-in tournament likely won’t be a concern.
They have claimed three of five games on this tough trip that closes Tuesday night at Staples Center against the Lakers.
"I think we’re learning a lot on this trip, and we’ve learned a lot all season long," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The toughness to win on the road and to be playing against these teams is telling us a lot. But there’s still a long way to go."
"I knew Thibs coming in was going to change the culture," Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Clippers, third in the Western Conference at 45-23, including a 129-115 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 31, kept missing big shots and the Knicks kept making them down the stretch.
RJ Barrett (18 points) fouled Kawhi Leonard on a three-point attempt with 39.7 seconds left and the Knicks up 102-94. Leonard cut it to five with the three free throws on his way to 29 points.
Bullock countered with two from the line. When Leonard drilled a three, it was 104-100 with 10.9 seconds left, but Taj Gibson sank two more free throws with 6.5 seconds remaining to put an exclamation point on the victory.
The Knicks started badly, falling behind 10-0, but Bullock went on a 7-0 run, hitting a free throw and two of his five three-pointers.
The Clippers led by nine in the second quarter, but the Knicks closed with a 16-7 burst to lead 56-54 at the intermission. They carried a 79-74 advantage into the fourth quarter.
"The big thing is everyone has been doubting the team all along," Thibodeau said. "We knew going on the trip, we had been playing good basketball but we were going to have to take it up to another level."