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Knicks giving fanbase a reason to hope

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Break out the champagne again.

The Knicks’ season is back trending the right way — a .500 team after a half-dozen games. And it looks like they gained a new shooter for the new year in combo guard Austin Rivers.

So many intoxicating efforts were found in this redemptive 106-102 triumph Saturday over the Pacers at Bankers Life Field House.

The New Year’s Eve shooting meltdown in Tampa against the Raptors just might be an aberration.

And this time, Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks didn’t fold in the second half against the powerful Pacers as they did on opening night 10 days ago. The Pacers had won four of their five games but couldn’t hold off Thibodeau a second time.

“It’s great to come here and get a win,’’ the Knicks coach said. “This team [the Pacers] is playing as well as anyone in the league. The thing I like the best is we showed improvement from that first game we played out here.’’

In the first game of 2021, starting point guard Elfrid Payton was snaking through the lane to the tune of 19 points, five assists with eight rebounds.

Starting center Mitchell Robinson was ramming home alley-oop passes or tipping in missed shots. Then Robinson’s encore came on defense. Robinson blocked a 3-pointer by Indiana’s standout Malcolm Brogdon that led to a game-sealing fastbreak layup by Rivers with 40 seconds left.

Mitchell Robinson slams one home during the Knicks' 106-102 win over the Pacers.
Mitchell Robinson slams one home during the Knicks’ 106-102 win over the Pacers.
NBAE via Getty Images

RJ Barrett was sinking 3-point shots for the first time since the Knicks last played in Indiana 10 days ago — literally.

Julius Randle was not scoring per usual but was defending stoutly against Indiana’s monster, Damontas Sabonis. Randle’s late strip-steal for a fastbreak dunk was perhaps the game’s most gigantic play.

And yet they would need Rivers down the stretch in his second game as a Knick. Rivers poured in 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with three 3-pointers, sharing the backcourt with Payton to close.

Rivers said he still has “no familiarity with any of the sets.” “It sucks — I haven’t practiced with the team,’’ Rivers said.

And Thibodeau still had the instincts to go with Rivers late.

“That experience is huge,’’ Thibodeau said. “Another guy who can put the ball on the floor, make 3s, can play defense. He made big shots. He hasn’t practiced a lot and he’ll get better and better as he works his way with conditioning.”

After the Toronto fiasco, Rivers turned to Instagram to post a pep talk to Knicks fans about patience.

“Never done that,’’ Rivers said. “Just because I know Knicks have great fans. I know they’ve waited a long time to see progress. We’re in the right direction. I just wanted people to know we’re working so hard. Tonight’s a big win but we have a lot of work to do.’’

Yes, this was a steep departure from New Year’s Eve. The Knicks really did shoot 3-of-36 from 3-point land, but no evidence from that brickfest could be found in Indy. Out with the old.

The win was more confirmation Thibodeau has found something with this starting lineup, which also includes Reggie Bullock and has remained intact through the first six games.

He’s stuck with them — all five returning players — from the season opener in Indiana to Saturday night.

In that opener, the Pacers destroyed the Knicks in the third quarter to take control but Payton wouldn’t let that happen this time. Payton poured in 12 points in the third and connected with Robinson on two alley-oop lobs.

“We feel we have a chance to win every night,’’ Randle said. “We feel like the biggest thing is finishing games. I tried to let guys know Indiana is a huge third-quarter team.”

Though bouncy rookie Immanuel Quickley and Rivers made a sharp new backup backcourt tandem in the first half, Payton looks in no danger of losing his starting job.

Thibodeau got his first technical as Knicks head coach — a $2,000 fine he’ll gladly pay to see his guys progress over 10 days and six games.

Remember Robinson’s travails in the opener? He was burdened by foul trouble and became a non-factor. The 7-footer rang in 2021 with 16 points, nine rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting.

“Let’s talk about Mitch,’’ Thibodeau said. “Every day he’s just growing and growing.”

This nine-man unit could get a boost Monday in Atlanta when Alec Burks, who has enjoyed a sweet start, makes a return from an ankle sprain. A new year really may have new hope.

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