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Knicks rally in second half to defeat Jazz

Knicks forward Julius Randle dunks next to Jazz

Knicks forward Julius Randle dunks next to Jazz center Rudy Gobert during the first half of an NBA game on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Wendell Cruz

Through the first seven games of the season, win or lose, the Knicks took pride in playing the Tom Thibodeau way, bragging about their effort and attention to detail. And some nights it was enough to spur them to victory and when it wasn’t it was a learning opportunity.

But Wednesday it just didn’t seem the same early. The Knicks seemed tired, lost as they fell behind by 18 points in the first half. And then a switch turned at halftime. The fight was back. Julius Randle was suddenly powering his way around the paint. And Elfrid Payton was orchestrating the offense while they took turn with defensive efforts.

But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the sort of magic took place that would have had Madison Square Garden shaking if it had been filled with fans rather than tarps spread out over the seats. Austin Rivers scored 14 straight points for the Knicks as they pulled away for a 112-100 win over the Utah Jazz. The win was the Knicks fifth in their last six games, improving the record to 5-3 on the season.

Randle led the Knicks with 30 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists and Payton scored 22. Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 19 points.

"Man, I keep trying to imagine it," said Rivers, who finished with 23 points, "of playing before a packed house at the Garden. "I just try to imagine when I used to play against this team and the energy in this building and how just unreal it is. So I can’t wait. They’re going to be back here eventually ... Hopefully down the line we can get people back in here because it’s the best place to play basketball.

"You play basketball in Madison Square Garden and there’s nothing like it. This was my first game as a Knick (here) tonight and I didn’t have the fans in here, but just being on that court with the lights coming down, the dark stands, there’s just nothing like that."

Royce O’Neale tied the game at 96 with a corner three-pointer but after a timeout Rivers faced up 7-1 Rudy Gobert and as the clock ticked down on the possession he drained a three-pointer for the lead. Then when Gobert blocked a Randle layup, Reggie Bullock ran down the loose ball and found Rivers, who saw the 24-second clock ticking down and raced into the lane, dropping in a floater for a five-point lead.

Rivers then found Randle open outside the arc, but Randle passed up the shot and fed it back to Rivers who buried the three for a 104-98 lead. Around a Randle pick Rivers drained another three — scoring all 11 points of an 11-2 run. After a timeout with 56 seconds to play, he did it again, dropping in a three-pointer to give him 23 points including 14 straight Knicks points.

"I’ve been on bad teams before," Rivers said. "This is not one. I can promise you that. i don’t know where it’ll end up. We have so much work to do. It’s really early in the year . . . This is not the Knicks team you all have been covering. It’s not."

The Jazz (4-4) were just 24 hours removed from a one-sided loss across the river in Brooklyn when they took the court at the Garden and appeared ready to see it happen again. But the Knicks weren’t able to take advantage of the lackadaisical start by the Jazz and down by 12 points at the half.

But in the third quarter the Knicks outscored the Jazz, 34-19, with Randle and Payton carrying the load for much of run. They then finished the quarter with a defensive flurry, a Kevin Knox block and save leading to a Payton fast break layup, followed by a steal by Austin Rivers for a dunk from RJ Barrett.

"We strive to a be a 48-minute team," Thibodeau said afterward. "Right now we’re nowhere near that so we know we have a lot of work to do. But we believe because of the way we work we can overcome things. I think there’s a toughness to the team because of the work they put into each and every day."

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