SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Julius Randle got fined by the NBA on Sunday and got even on Monday.
This time it was the Knicks’ turn to rally from a big deficit and capture a desperately needed victory.
Randle exploded for a career-high 46 points to lead a 44-point third-quarter barrage as the Knicks rallied from 19 points down in the first half to knock out the Kings, 131-115, in a Wild West shootout at Golden1 Center.
“When he plays with that type of intensity, it lifts everyone,” Tom Thibodeau said. “He was attacking the basket, shooting the 3, making hustle plays. It was a great all-around game from him.”
By winning their back-to-back California set against the Clippers and Kings, the Knicks posted their first two-game winning streak since mid-January when they reeled off three straight wins against San Antonio, Dallas and Atlanta.
The Knicks, at 27-38, moved to 4 ½ games behind the Hawks for the 10th seed and final Eastern Conference play-in spot with 17 games to play. They’ve played well since the All-Star break and now have something to show for it.
Suspect from the 3-point line this season, Randle fired in a career-high eight 3-pointers (on 16 attempts) and shot 18-for-31 overall.
“I’m taking the open look and just taking it,” Randle said of his 3-point bust-out. “Just playing and not second-guessing and shooting the open shot.”
It’s been an odd trip for Randle, who received a $50,000 fine from the NBA on Sunday for not participating in the league’s investigation into his Friday skirmish in Phoenix with Cam Johnson.
Asked about the fine, Randle paused and said, “Next question. I’m already in too much trouble.”
RJ Barrett also had a big second half and finished with 27 points, and Immanuel Quickley also fired in 27. Evan Fournier shook off an 0-for-4 start to pile up 15 points.
The Knicks exploded for a 35-17 start to the second half to erase a 15-point halftime hole. They racked up 83 points in the second half, their most after intermission since 1969. Randle had 32 points in the second half.
“Julius had a lot to do with that,” Barrett said. “All of us had a crazy rhythm. It’s fun moving the ball and everyone gets to eat.
They were dead in the water in the first half and minus their sparkplug center Mitchell Robinson, who picked up two fouls in the first two minutes, was removed and then was said to have “an illness.”
Randle hit a 3 in the final minute of the third to give the Knicks a 92-87 lead and they ran away with it in the fourth quarter, keeping in their chief players until the final two minutes.
The Knicks outscored the Kings 44-24 in the third, the most points they’ve scored in any period this season. Randle scored 17 in the quarter and had 30 entering the final period.
The bad news was Cam Reddish was injured. Going up to contest a shot early in the fourth quarter, Reddish got upended by a driving Davion Mitchell and fell badly, hitting his shoulder. Reddish stayed down, holding his head, then was helped off clutching his right shoulder with 11:11 left. Thibodeau said he was still being examined after the game.
The Knicks also got a gutty defensive performance from rookie point guard Miles McBride. Late in the third, McBride stole the ball from Mitchell and got fouled. On the next possession, McBride forced a jump ball.
As good as it would get, the game started badly. The Kings jumped to 7-0 and 12-2 leads. Robinson picked up two fouls in the opening 1:40, including one on a 3-point play from Sabonis, who later got himself ejected for arguing and bumping a referee.
Robinson was removed and rookie backup center Jericho Sims picked up three fouls. Instead of going back to Robinson, Thibodeau put in the veteran Taj Gibson for the first time since the All-Star break.
Without Robinson, the Knicks’ defense allowed the Kings much of everything. De’Aaron Fox went to the basket with impunity, scoring on four easy layups.
The Kings got up as many as 20 points in the second quarter and led 63-48 at intermission before it all crashed and burned.
“We knew Sacramento was a good team but they’re known to give up leads,” Quickley said.
“We knew it would be challenging coming into the game because of the back-to-back and their speed,” Thibodeau said. “Fox’s speed is a great test for you and we got into a hole early. But we never quit and that was the best thing. We kept fighting, fighting. And then Julius got going and it was pretty terrific what he did all-around.
“We were getting our legs and were a little tired after the back to back,” Barrett added. “We needed these two wins.”