Yes, the Knicks knew they had to win this one.
After collapsing in three straight losses, they were on the verge of having their season quietly slip away as they entered Saturday night’s game in Detroit.
Instead, they came out and made a statement loud and clear, exploding for a 41-point first quarter en route to a 125-81 win over the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.
The Knicks’ 44-point margin of victory was the sixth largest in team history and their largest since 1996. They led by 47 at one point.
It marked the first time since 1994 that the Knicks had won a road game by at least 40 points. They made 19 three-pointers in the game, one shy of tying the franchise record.
The Knicks shot 54.4% overall and 48.7% from outside the three-point arc.
"I just loved the togetherness of the team and the spirit of the game," coach Tom Thibodeau said.
"The start of the game set the tone of the game. The unselfishness and the way we shared the ball got us off to a great start. Great team win."
Apparently, the Knicks figured out that one sure way to avoid losing a close game late is to build an insurmountable lead early. They scored the first 14 points of the game and continued to roll all the way to the end of the period, which they finished with a 41-15 advantage.
The Knicks’ starters outscored the Pistons’ starters 39-1 in the quarter.
Julius Randle, who struggled against Dallas on Friday, scored 20 of his 29 points in the first quarter against the Pistons. He hit four three-pointers in the first period and was 7-for-10 from the floor.
"I couldn’t hit anything yesterday. I guess the basketball gods turned it around," Randle said. "I just decided to come out and be aggressive. Just having fun. I just let the game come to me. Everybody was making it easy on me."
Reggie Bullock also hit four three-pointers in the first quarter and scored 14 of his season-high 22 points in the period. Overall, he shot 8-for-12 and the team was a stunning plus-27 with him on the floor.
"We had to get our groove back," Bullock said. "This is something Coach harped on in shootaround this morning."
RJ Barrett added 14 points and Immanuel Quickley had 12.
Detroit (14-35) has the worst record in the Eastern Conference, so it’s not as if the Knicks slew Goliath. Jerami Grant, who scored 16 points, was the only Pistons starter to finish in double figures. Hamidou Diallo had 14 points off the bench and Cory Joseph had 10.
Still, as bad as the Pistons are, the win was an important one. It pushed the Knicks’ record back to .500 (25-25) and gave them a much-needed confidence boost as they head into a tough end-of- the-year schedule, which starts with Monday night’s game against the Nets, who are tied with the 76ers for the Eastern Conference lead.
The Knicks had been in a position to win each of their previous three games but collapsed in the second half.
Against Miami, the Knicks led by 10 points at the half but gave up 38 points in the final quarter.
In their loss to Minnesota, which has the worst record in the NBA, the Knicks blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
And in the loss to Dallas on Friday, they led by 13 points in the second quarter before letting the Mavericks take control of a close game with 12 straight points in the fourth quarter.
"We were disappointed with the losses,’’ Thibodeau said. "To come back and bounce back the way we did says a lot about the character of the team. You have to fight for the things you want."
And on Saturday, the Knicks came out fighting.