BOSTON — The Knicks put the finishing touch on their nine-game winning streak late Sunday night as a potential game-winning three-pointer by the Celtics’ Al Horford missed, and they celebrated with a sigh of relief as much as any wild gesticulations. Even Immanuel Quickley admitted that he was exhausted.
Their 131-129 double-overtime win came two nights after a game-winning three-pointer with 1.1 seconds left by Julius Randle in Miami and was the Knicks’ second win over the Celtics in less than a week.
Pieced together with different heroes every night, this winning streak feels like something special.
The current vibes may be as positive as they were when Jeremy Lin embarked on the wild Linsanity stretch, landing on back-to-back covers of Sports Illustrated as well as barging into hype from non-sports networks. While the seven-game winning streak that started it spawned documentaries and a place in the hearts of Knicks fans, that team still was a quick out in the first round of the playoffs, and Lin’s time in New York was over.
This team may be riding just as high — the Knicks will try to record their 10th straight win Tuesday night against the Hornets at the Garden and are 12 games over .500 for the first time in 10 years — and is built on a sturdier foundation. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle both are worthy of All-NBA consideration, Quickley is a legitimate contender for Sixth Man of the Year and they have a two-time Coach of the Year in Tom Thibodeau reminding them of the most important fact.
“To me, you celebrate your team, you celebrate winning,” Thibodeau said after the latest victory. “Those are the things you celebrate. I want our team to have fun, I want them to have joy, but I don’t want it to get twisted. Winning is way more fun than fun is fun. Make sure we take care of business.”
While this team may have celebrated — no one more than Quickley, who was dancing and skipping all night long while scoring a career-high 38 points in 55 minutes (the most of any player in the NBA this season) — it didn’t take any longer than the walk back to the locker room to refocus.
Asked what this latest win showed about the Knicks, Randle, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, said, “I’ll leave that up to y’all. We take it step by step. Day by day. Honestly, we didn’t even play great. We could’ve played a lot better. Just focused on improvement, getting better.”
Like Brunson, who sat out the game with a sore left foot, Randle sounded as if Thibodeau were speaking through him. The focus is on the task at hand, and that comes before the fun.
“It’s good. I think the biggest thing is we’re just having fun playing,” Randle said. “Everybody is just enjoying being out there and competing at a really high level. Winning in the NBA is really hard, but we’re getting enjoyment out of doing the right things, building the right habits every game, getting better as a team. So I think that’s what’s keeping this thing fresh and the energy good.”
Notes & quotes: Brunson sat out a game for the fifth time this season and is listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the Hornets . . . Quickley was among the nominees for Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.