Knicks squeak out win against rival Nets to clinch at least top-4 playoff seed

The Knicks didn’t come out resembling a team seeking to finally secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, instead looking like a gassed one playing the tail end of back-to-back games following an eight-day road trip. 

But like they have done throughout this season, the Knicks clawed back from a sizable first-half hole and overran the eliminated Nets in the third quarter before holding on for a 111-107 victory to clinch no worse than the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

“[Home court] means a lot. I’m excited to get that, get that going,” Jalen Brunson said. “This is the next step for us and so we have a chance to protect it, so we should. 

Jalen Brunson scored a team-high 30 points in the Knicks’ win against the Nets. Charles Wenzelberg

“But we want to be the best team we can be by the end of the year.” 

Tom Thibodeau’s team (49-32) still has a chance to steal the No. 2 spot in the East with a win Sunday over the Bulls and a loss by the Bucks (also 49-32) in their final game. 

The Knicks also can sew up the No. 3 seed with a win Sunday in their regular-season finale, but a loss could push them down to the No. 4 position in a three-way tiebreaker scenario with the Bucks and the Cavaliers (48-33). 

OG Anunoby scored all 15 of his points in the second half for the Knicks. Charles Wenzelberg

“Hey look, we wanna go through the finish line, so that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Thibodeau said.

“We wanna improve. We wanna play our best.” 

Brunson overcame a sluggish first half to post a team-high 30 points, including two game-sealing free throws with 4.1 seconds left after a hard shove by Cam Thomas

OG Anunoby got into Thomas’ face after the foul to loud chants of “OG,” and he scored all 15 of his points after halftime for the Knicks, who swept the four-game season series with their Brooklyn-based rivals. 

“I just asked what that was about. I thought it was an excessive push,” Anunoby said. “I don’t ever want to see a teammate be pushed. That’s it, nothing more.” 

The Knicks, who outscored Brooklyn 30-13 in the third quarter after trailing by as many as 17 in the second, improved to a staggering 19-3 in 22 games since Anunoby was acquired in late December in a deal that sent RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to the Raptors. 

Still, they missed their first five shots — four by Brunson — and spotted the out-of-it Nets an 11-0 lead. A

Cam Thomas led all scorers with 41 points during the Nets’ loss
to the Knicks on Friday. Charles Wenzelberg

fter managing the next five points, the Knicks allowed another double-digit splurge for a 21-5 Brooklyn advantage. 

The Knicks were outscored 30-14 while shooting 25.0 percent (5-for-20) from the field through one. 

Brunson finally registered his first points of the game after missing his first six shots with 4:15 left in the first half. 

The Knicks still have a chance to climb to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference after Friday’s win. Charles Wenzelberg

The Knicks put up 40 in the second, but Thomas finished the half with 22 of his game-high 41 as the Nets carried a 63-54 advantage into intermission. 

Still, the Knicks ratcheted up the intensity to open the third quarter.

They poured in the first nine points in barely two minutes on a bucket by Josh Hart, a traditional three-point play by Brunson and two dunks by Anunoby off turnovers to tie the score. 

Mikal Bridges celebrates a basket against the Knicks on Friday. Charles Wenzelberg

Anunoby added two 3-pointers and finished the quarter with 15 while shutting down Thomas at the other end, helping hold him scoreless in the period for an eight-point cushion entering the final quarter. 

Thomas responded with 10 points in the first six minutes of the fourth, and the Nets climbed within one at 99-98 on Trendon Watford’s drive with 2:50 remaining. 

The Nets intentionally fouled Mitchell Robinson — a 56.2 percent free-throw shooter this season — four times in the closing minutes.

But he sank 5 of 8 from the stripe, including a pair with 2:03 left, before Brunson nailed two short jumpers and four free throws to close it out. 

“We started the game really in mud,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve had a heavy schedule. But the thing that I like is that we’ve responded. We didn’t stay down. We fixed it. And we found a way to win in the end, and that’s the bottom line.”