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Knicks manage to avoid embarrassing loss to Rockets

Knicks players huddle against the Houston Rockets in

Knicks players huddle against the Houston Rockets in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks have some kinks to work out — a lot of kinks.

No other conclusion can be reached after watching them stumble to a 106-99 win over the hapless Rockets on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Yes, the Knicks managed to pull out a win, thanks to some big-time three-pointers down the stretch by Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley, who totaled 27 of the team’s 34 points in the fourth quarter. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Rockets are a team that the Knicks, or any team with playoff aspirations, should easily beat by double digits.

The Rockets aren’t just the worst team in the NBA. At 1-15, they are on pace to be the worst team in the history of the NBA. Not only had they lost 13 straight games coming in, but they had lost them by significant margins. Only two of those losses had been by fewer than 10 points.

"It wasn’t a smooth game," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said after his team erased a five-point deficit by outscoring the Rockets 22-10 in the final 5:53. "It wasn’t a smooth game. I was concerned about their athleticism. We found a way to win."

Burks scored 17 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 5-for-6 from three-point range and making four of his five steals in the quarter. He sank the first six of his seven three-point attempts overall. "He’s a big-shot maker. A fourth-quarter player," Thibodeau said.

Quickley scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Evan Fournier scored 19 points, shooting 5-for-10 from outside the arc, but the Knicks’ other starters struggled. Julius Randle had 16 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists but shot 4-for-15.

Christian Wood had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Houston.

This was supposed to be the kind of game in which the Knicks could work out their problems. It should have been a much-needed big win that could catapult them into one of their most difficult stretches of the season.

Instead, they opened with one of the worst first quarters to be played by two NBA teams this season. Despite committing eight turnovers and shooting 33.3%, the Rockets took a 21-13 lead. The Knicks shot 21.7% in the quarter.

Things continued to be close and ugly for two more quarters until the Knicks were able to hit some big shots down the stretch.

Beginning with Sunday’s game against the Bulls, the Knicks face a seven-game stretch that includes five teams that made the playoffs last season — the Lakers, Phoenix, Atlanta, the Nets and Denver — plus two games against the Bulls (8-5).

Thibodeau said before the game that the Knicks can’t worry too much about whether they are going into a difficult or an easy stretch.

"No, just keep the focus," he said. " . . . I think if you look behind or you look ahead, you’re going to miss what’s in front of you, and that’s where the focus needs to lie.

"So sometimes obviously you don’t play as well as you like, so it’s necessary to make those corrections. Even when you play well, there’s usually things that you need to work on. Every day, we’re just concentrating on what we need to get done."

Thibodeau seemed ready to put the Rockets game behind him and just move on.

"Yeah you have to look at the game, fix what you need to fix, prepare yourself," he said. " . . . You have to move on quickly, that’s a big part of this league. [Chicago is] a team that’s, they’re playing good basketball, they’re on top of the conference, so we have to be ready. And we’re going to have to play 48 minutes."

New York Sports