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Julius Randle and RJ Barrett carried the night and load with each playing 40-plus minutes and combining for 54 points.
But the rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, in his third NBA game, and veteran Austin Rivers, carried the Knicks home in the fourth quarter as they squeaked out a 113-108 road win in Atlanta to end their four-game trip at 3-1.
Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are now a winning ballclub at 4-3 — by far the hottest NBA team in New York after winning four of their last five games.
As is his knack, Quickley drew a huge three-shot foul with 2:34 left, bagging all three free throws as he finished with 16 points in 19 minutes, playing almost the entire fourth quarter during which he scored 10 points.
Rivers, in his recent role as closer, hit a huge 3-pointer with under a minute left, then drew a charge on Trae Young.
Randle scored 12 points in the first quarter and finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists, falling one dish shy of a triple-double, to continue his All-Star-caliber season. The Hawks were the first team not to double-team the Knicks’ emerging star.
RJ Barrett was terrific with 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in 44 minutes as the Knicks rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter.
The Knicks have little big-man depth with Obi Toppin and Omari Spellman out and got dealt a blow when Nerlens Noel was ruled out with an ankle sprain. Noel was not on the injury report.
That forced Randle into major minutes (43). With Randle dominating inside and the Knicks attacking the rim, the club dominated the paint. Twelve of their first 14 points were in the paint. The Knicks starters built an early 24-14 capped by a beautiful feed from Payton to Barrett for a fast-break dunk put the Knicks up 10.
Asked why he stuck with Quickley in the fourth, Thibodeau said:
“He can shoot. Just the way he approaches the game, attitude, approach. He has that one skill that opens everything up. Every day he’s getting better and better. When you’re as intelligent as him he picks up things quickly. We were searching and struggling and found a group and rode with it.’’
Quickly scored on a floater to start the fourth quarter, making it 88-86. He finished 4 of 6 from the field, 2 for 3 from the 3-point line and 6 of 6 from the line.
The Knicks fell behind by 15 before rallying in the final 1:30 of the third quarter. Kevin Knox hit a 3-pointer for his first bucket of the night. Quickley blew by former Duke standout Cam Reddish for a layup. And then Knox hit another 3 — a buzzer-beater from the corner after which he raised his arms in celebration as the Knicks grabbed an 88-84 lead.