LOS ANGELES — The Knicks have tried just about everything this season in an attempt to find a way out of the struggles that have befallen them. And in giving in to the reality of the team's situation, Tom Thibodeau turned to his youngsters Sunday night.
He started the second quarter with a group that included not a player over 23 years old and saw a 16-0 run break the game open. Then, with the lead seemingly slipping away again, he turned to a slightly altered version — still not a player older than 23 — and a 10-0 run safely tucked the game away, leading the Knicks to a desperately needed 116-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Knicks went ahead by 26 points with 7:47 left in the third quarter and saw the lead cut to 12 before the end of the period. However, instead of giving away yet another huge lead, they extended it to 32 points in the fourth quarter.
The grouping — RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Miles McBride, Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson in the second quarter and then Jericho Sims in the fourth — turned what had been a seven-game losing streak into an energetic win to lift the spirits of a team in the midst of a seven-game road trip.
"They were great, great,'' Thibodeau said of the second-quarter unit. "I thought the tone of the game was set the first five minutes with the starters. I thought the defense was real good and then offensively, the willingness to make the extra pass. Got good rhythm shots for everyone. And then the bench came in and played terrific. They just carried on and they built on the lead. They played tough with the lead. The rebounding, I thought, was terrific. Taking care of the ball. All of the things that you have to do, it was a great all-around win. I thought our stars played really well and I thought our bench played really well.''
The Knicks (26-38), who had lost 17 of their previous 20 games, remain 5 1/2 games out of the play-in tournament. They have 18 games left, beginning with Monday night's game in Sacramento.
Barrett led the Knicks with 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists, but it was the bench players who provided the lift. Quickley had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Reddish added 17 points. McBride had just three points, one rebound and no assists but was a plus-27 in 17:52, and Sims had 11 rebounds.
Among the starters, Alec Burks had 15 points and Robinson had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Amir Coffey had 16 points for the Clippers (34-32).
The lead was up to 26 at 74-48 midway through the third quarter, but as has been an all-too-familiar pattern, it began to slip away. By the time the fourth quarter started, the lead was down to 80-68 and the Clippers, who had been awful offensively — Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Nic Batum totaled 8-for-36 shooting through three quarters — began to show signs of life.
But starting the fourth quarter with a quintet that included Barrett, Reddish, Quickley and rookies Sims and McBride — Sims, at 23 years old, was the oldest of the group — the Knicks scored the first 12 points to extend the lead to 24.
For once the starters were all on the bench for the final six minutes, their only action coming as they jumped out of their seats to celebrate a three-point field goal by McBride and then a three-pointer by Ryan Arcidiacono.
The Clippers entered the game with a five-game winning streak and were home after a two-day break. But it was the Knicks who came out with high energy, taking the lead from the start and never trailing.
In the first half, the Knicks stretched the lead to as many as 19 behind 18 points from Barrett, relentlessly attacking the rim. Robinson, after outplaying Deandre Ayton in Phoenix on Friday, came out aggressively again, picking up six points and seven rebounds while saddling the Clippers' big men with foul trouble early.
The Knicks also did it without Julius Randle converting a field goal until 2:22 remained in the half. He missed his first seven shots before he finally converted one.