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Knicks take 21-point lead before edging Rockets in Leon Rose's first game as team president

RJ Barrett of the Knicks celebrates his basket

RJ Barrett of the Knicks celebrates his basket late during the fourth quarter against the Rockets with teammate Bobby Portis at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Credit: Jim McIsaac

If change finally came officially in the Knicks’ executive suite Monday, things seemed the same everywhere else throughout the organization. They put the same lineup on the floor. Mike Miller still was the interim coach.

But what happened when the game began certainly was different. The Knicks built a 21-point second-quarter lead over the Houston Rockets, then had it cut to one before holding on for a 125-123 win at the Garden.

The Rockets’ James Harden got all the way to the rim but missed what would have been a go-ahead layup with 30 seconds left and RJ Barrett drove for a tough layup with 7.6 seconds remaining to increase the Knicks’ lead to three.

After Russell Westbrook hit two free throws with 5.5 seconds left, Julius Randle missed his first free throw but hit the second to give the Knicks a two-point edge with 4.6 seconds to play. Closely guarded by Frank Ntilikina, Westbrook attempted a pull-up jumper in the lane that rolled off the rim as time expired.

“We knew they were going to make a run,” Miller said. “We knew that no matter what happens with the firepower and how quick they can get back in it, we knew they could get back in the game . . . There were so many guys that played well. That’s the strength of our team. I think these guys are really embracing that, that we have to do it together and that everybody has to do their job and the value of all those jobs.”

Barrett scored 27 points, tying his career high, and Randle had 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Knicks (19-42). Wayne Ellington and Bobby Portis each added 15 and Mitchell Robinson had 12 points and 13 rebounds. The Knicks had a 65-34 rebounding edge against the Rockets, who play without a traditional center.

James Harden had 35 points and Westbrook 24 for Houston (39-21). Robert Covington and Danuel House Jr. added 20 each.

New Knicks president Leon Rose watched from center court, about 10 rows up. It was his first game with the team since agreeing to take over on Feb. 6. In a letter to season-ticket holders, he asked for patience, said he will be with the team observing and singled out Miller for praise.

“I’ve kind of told you guys before, my approach is always the same,” Miller said. “We’re here today. We’re trying to get better today, we’re trying to get ready for this game and I don’t need any assurances from anyone as we go through this. I trust the process, I trust what we’re doing. I’m perfectly fine working the way we’re doing day to day and trying to make the players better and trying to make the team better.”

No ban on Spike

During the game, a video circulated on the internet of longtime Knicks fan Spike Lee screaming at security guards and being denied entrance. The Knicks said it was untrue that Lee was prevented from entering the arena and added that it “was simply an issue of using the wrong entrance.” A source said Lee tried to enter through the employee entrance, for which he does not have a pass.

Lee was in his courtside seat throughout the game, and he and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan discussed the situation at halftime.

New York Sports