The Knicks’ late-season surge continued at four games and they hardly needed Julius Randle to beat the Bulls 109-104 at the Garden on Monday.
For the second straight day, Alec Burks hit the game-sealing corner 3-pointer with 22 seconds left off a great feed from Immanuel Quickley that stretched the Knicks’ lead to four.
Burks finished with 27 points, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers and RJ Barrett pumped in 28 but missed a turnaround jumper and a free throw in the final minute.
With Randle benched most of the fourth quarter, Obi Toppin (17 points) gave the Knicks a spark as they swept the back-to-back to keep alive — barely — their play-in tournament hopes.
The Knicks are 9-4 in their last 13 games but stayed 4 ½ games behind Atlanta as the Hawks prevailed over the Pacers.
They won their season-high fourth straight without needing anything from Randle, who decided to suit up on the second night of a back-to-back despite a sore quad and finished with five points (1 of 9 from the field).
“The big thing is we’re playing all these young guys and they’re getting valuable experience,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And you’re never eliminated until you’re eliminated. I don’t want a quitting spirit on our team. I want to keep playing. Until we’re eliminated we’re going to keep playing.
“We have guys who are growing. I don’t believe in that other stuff [tanking]. We had a heavy road schedule and this team is responding. It’s a good solid won for us.”
Center Mitchell Robinson was also a force with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and not only on putbacks. He caught an array of alley-oop feeds too, including one beauty from Barrett.
“Sometimes they be ‘aight’,” Robinson cracked. “Sometimes they be off the walls.”
Robinson is an unrestricted free agent and faced in the back-to-back two teams in the Pistons and Bulls who talked to the Knicks about him at the trade deadline.
“It’s something we really need — second-chance points,” Robinson said. “We can get an extra 2-pointer or 3. So I try to go hard for the offensive rebounds as much as I can.”
The Knicks survived DeMar DeRozan’s 37 points, partly due to Burks’ big groove.
Understated as usual, Burks hit the game-sealing 3-pointer and steal Sunday versus the Pistons. Burks dislikes talking to the media and didn’t come to the interview room after either game.
He let Barrett talk for him.
“Big-time, back-to-back games, back-to-back big-time games for AB and we needed it, so always happy to have him on our team,” Barrett said.
It’s too bad this surge likely came too late.
“We fight, we fight no matter what. We’re a really good team,” Barrett said. “We are disappointed with how we started the season, but we are a very good team and we are playing out these wins. We are scratching and clawing and playing very well, so when you have something like that you try to build on it.”
Meanwhile, MSG Networks’ postgame show piled on Randle for not celebrating with teammates after the win , with analyst Wally Szczerbiak saying, “I wish Randle would join the party.”
As usual, Thibodeau defended Randle, who didn’t look 100 percent after missing three games last week with a sore quad and playing 31 minutes Sunday.
“You can play well when you didn’t shoot well. His 13 rebounds was huge,” the coach said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t be playing. He wants to play. I have great respect for that.”
There are those fans who are looking at the dwindling lottery odds but Thibodeau can’t even imagine that thought process.
“We’re getting a lot of information,” Thibodeau said. “That’s good. Seems like everyone has a different idea how this should be approached. It should be approached what’s best for team.”
The Bulls ran out to a 28-17 lead by hitting 11 of their first 13 shots. Thibodeau called timeout in a fury after Zach Lavine fed Ayo Dosunmu in the lane and he dribbled in for an uncontested dunk. The Bulls led by 12 points after one as the Knicks missed their first seven 3-pointers.
But the Knicks got rolling in the second quarter, sparked by consecutive corner 3s from Toppin and an angry, driving lefty flush by Barrett.
Then Burks got going. He hit three straight baskets, and scored 13 points in the second quarter, giving the Knicks a 53-50 halftime lead.
“Good solid win for us,” Thibodeau said.