NEW YORK – The New York Knicks want to start their postseason in Madison Square Garden.
“We definitely want that fourth seed,” RJ Barrett said. “We want that home court.”
The San Antonio Spurs just want to get in, and they'll have a chance.
Alec Burks scored a season-high 30 points in his return from a three-game absence and the Knicks kept up their chase of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference by rallying to beat the Spurs 102-98 on Thursday night.
Julius Randle had 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for the Knicks, who are a half-game behind Atlanta as they battle the Hawks and Miami for the final home-court position in the East.
Both Atlanta and Miami won, and Randle said he was scoreboard watching.
“People who say they're not watching are liars,” Randle said.
Barrett scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half for the Knicks, who clinched their first postseason berth since 2013 on Wednesday when Boston lost in Cleveland. The Knicks acknowledged the achievement on the overhead video board during a timeout in the first quarter, drawing a cheer from the crowd.
DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points for the Spurs, who despite losing for the second straight night clinched the final spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament when Sacramento lost to Memphis.
San Antonio missed the playoffs last year after an NBA record-tying streak of 22 straight appearances starting in 1998.
“You’re fighting for your life now. It’s really win or go home after these next two games,” DeRozan said.
San Antonio opened a 17-point lead in the third quarter, but struggled to contain Burks and Barrett.
Burks, converted a tiebreaking three-point play that made it 93-90 with 3:16 left. DeRozan made a basket, but Burks followed with a 3-pointer for a four-point lead, and he sank a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds to go after the Spurs cut it to one.
Burks missed three games with a bruised left knee after previously being sidelined for coronavirus health and safety reasons. He said he tested positive but had no symptoms, having previously been vaccinated.
“It’s been crazy,” Burks said. “I’m just glad to be back playing with my teammates and I’m just ready to help any way I can in the playoffs.”
The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 20 but postponed along with three other games on the Spurs' annual rodeo road trip because of coronavirus reasons.
The Knicks got the first basket of the third quarter to go ahead 48-43, but the Spurs outscored them 32-10 over the next nearly eight minutes to open a 75-58 lead when Rudy Gay made three free throws with 3:45 remaining in the period.
Barrett scored 11 points from there to the end of the period as the Knicks cut it to four, then he and Burks opened the fourth with 3-pointers as New York went back ahead 79-77.
Spurs: Dejounte Murray had 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. ... Luka Samanic was out after breaking a bone in his left hand in Brooklyn.
Knicks: Randle was presented his Eastern Conference player of the month award for April before the game. ... Derrick Rose sat out to rest his left ankle.
Though largely focusing on the work ahead, coach Tom Thibodeau said he understood what a playoff berth meant to young Knicks fans who haven't seen many.
“I think having grown up in Connecticut and being here in the '90s with the Knicks and knowing what basketball means to this city, it’s great,” said Thibodeau, an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy when the Knicks lost to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals.
HAPPY FOR THIBODEAU
Popovich said people who know Thibodeau were smiling in respect, knowing he would turn around the Knicks after he did so previously in Chicago and Minnesota.
“It’s like night comes after the day, and he went and did it again and we’re thrilled for him,” Popovich said. “He’s brought respect to the basketball team and the organization. He's made it a winning culture so he’s been awesome.”
Spurs: Host Phoenix on Saturday and Sunday.
Knicks: Host Charlotte on Saturday.
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