Knicks forward Julius Randle shoots from midcourt as time runs...

Knicks forward Julius Randle shoots from midcourt as time runs out in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 20, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks have made believers of their skeptical fan base. They’ve all but locked up a postseason berth. They have more wins than any other Knicks team in the last decade. Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson are showing up night after night and coaxing “MVP!’’ chants out of a Garden crowd that seems so ready to put its cynicism away.

But old habits die hard, and even as Randle produced the performance of his life Monday night, there was that old thread of worry. Can the Knicks finish the transformation that’s so defined their best season in years?

The Knicks erased a 17-point second-quarter deficit but lost to the Timberwolves, 140-134, the result of a large-scale breakdown on defense that erased a show nearly a decade in the making.

Randle scored 57 points, the most by any Knick since 2014, and had 26 points in the third period, the best single-quarter total in team history. He tied the third-highest-scoring performance in team history, trailing only Carmelo Anthony (62) and Bernard King (60) and matching Richie Guerin (57).

“Those are legends in this game, and pioneers, who specifically for this organization laid the groundwork and led the way for players like myself to come behind them and be able to play the game I love and be able to put on that Knicks jersey with pride,” Randle said of his company. “But I just want to win . . . Hopefully I will be able to [enjoy the accomplishment eventually], but tonight probably not. I’m a little bit upset about the loss.”

Randle, who had 52 points through three quarters, shot 17-for-24 from the field, 8-for-12 from three-point range and 10-for-12 from the free-throw line in 29:24 in that span but was only 2-for-5 overall in the fourth period. He finished 19-for-29.

Brunson added 23 points and 10 assists for the Knicks, who trailed 109-108 after three quarters but scored only five points in the final 4:40, shooting 2-for-8 with three turnovers.

Immanuel Quickley had 19 points for the Knicks (42-31), who are three games behind the fourth-place Cavaliers, two games ahead of the sixth-place Nets and three games ahead of the seventh-place Heat, whom they will play Wednesday night in Miami.

Taurean Prince shot 12-for-13 from the field, including 8-for-8 from three-point range, and led the Timberwolves with 35 points. Mike Conley added 24 points and 11 assists.

Brunson’s driving layup gave the Knicks a five-point lead with 4:41 to play, but the Timberwolves responded with a 13-2 run to go up 137-131 with 1:27 left. They capped the run with eight straight points, five on free throws.

“We weren’t playing hard enough,” Brunson said. “They were playing harder than us and it’s something that you never want to tell yourself or think about, but that’s the case tonight. You’ve just got to give them credit. They played really well. We’ve just got to be better. I’ve just got to be better.”

The Timberwolves were without their two best players in Anthony Edwards (ankle) and Karl-Anthony Towns (calf). Nevertheless, they shot 61.4% from the field and 14-for-24 from three-point range.

The Timberwolves shot 71.1% from the field (10-for-13 from three-point range) and scored 79 points in the first half. Tom Thibodeau’s assessment of the Knicks’ defense? “Not very good.” But the Knicks scored 76 points in the middle two quarters to stay in it.

They trailed by 16 points early in the third quarter, but Randle shot 9-for-10 overall and 5-for-6 from outside the arc in the period. His 26 points in the quarter pushed him past Anthony’s record of 25.

By the end of the third quarter, Randle had become the first Knick to score at least 50 since Anthony had a franchise-record 62 in January 2014. And by the time he went to the line at the end of the third, the MVP chants were almost as loud as his performance.

“It’s a shame to waste a performance like that,” Thibodeau said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more. But we were careless with the ball, turned the ball over. They’ve got, obviously, great size. All we had to do is keep making a simple play. But we’ve gotta make better decisions.”

Most points scored by a Knick in a game:

62 Carmelo Anthony January 2014

60 Bernard King December 1984

57 Julius Randle March 2023

57 Richie Guerin December 1959

55 Bernard King February 1985  

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