Kemba Walker returned to action and to the starting lineup Tuesday night. But it was the finish, not the start, that put the New York product on display and sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.
Trailing by 10 at halftime the Knicks mounted a second half comeback. And just when they seemed to be running out of gas, Walker took over with the sort of performance he’d put on display at the Garden since his high school days, connecting on three three-point field goals with the game in the balance, echoing the "Cardiac Kemba" days of long ago.
But the celebration was early as the Timberwolves continued to battle to the final buzzer. And with 29.3 seconds remaining, Karl-Anthony Towns converted a tough layup, drawing a foul on Julius Randle and completing a three-point play, giving Minnesota back the lead and they hung on for a 112-110 win.
Randle went to the line with 24.3 seconds left and a chance to tie the game, but misfired on the first free throw before making the second to cut the deficit to one. Alec Burks missed a potential game-winning shot as time expired.
Evan Fournier led the Knicks with 27 points and Randle had 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists along with four blocks. Walker finished with 19 points and RJ Barrett had 17, but seven turnovers.
Down the stretch the Knicks went with a small lineup after Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson fouled out, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau opted to insert Burks into the game rather than another big man But Randle wasn’t big enough to stop Towns when it counted, the New Jersey native finishing with 20 points.
Through the first half the Knicks were ouhustled and outplayed, reminiscent of the lackadaisical performance a day earlier against Charlotte, and when the dust cleared it seemed like a moral victory for the Knicks that they were down just 10 points. Randle and Barrett totaled more turnovers (seven) than field goals (six) and the Knicks turned the ball over 13 times in the half.
But when the second half began the Knicks trotted out the same starting lineup, but it looked like a completely different team. Walker, returning to the starting lineup after nine games on the sidelines, got them started with his shooting and his energy. And as if he ignited it, the rest of the Knicks followed. Randle began to plow aggressively through the Minnesota defense. And Fournier, the only Knick who seemed ready at the start, caught fire.
When the third quarter was over the Knicks had piled up 40 points and turned the 10-point deficit into a five-point lead. And the boos that echoed through the Garden early turned into chants of de-fense.
But from the final minute of the third quarter through the start of the fourth quarter the Timberwolves scored 11 straight points to turn a 91-82 deficit into a 93-91 lead.
Robinson, Taj Gibson and Barrett all picked up three fouls in the half as the Knicks struggled to slow down Edwards and Towns. Edwards repeatedly went by Barrett, scoring 16 points in the half — shooting just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc, but 5-for-6 inside it. Towns had 11 points — all in the first quarter.
Walker was limited, playing 13 minutes, but he did hit his first shot and then fed Robinson with a pretty lob for a dunk. He didn’t hit another shot in the half, but at least was one of the few Knicks without a turnover.