RJ Barrett scored a game-high 22 points Sunday afternoon as the New York Knicks completed a resurgent regular season and clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference by hanging on for a 96-92 win over the visiting Boston Celtics.
The Knicks (42-30), who are headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, will open the quarterfinals at home next weekend against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.
The Celtics (36-36) already were locked into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference and the first seed in the play-in tournament. Boston, which needs to win just once to advance to the playoffs, will play the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
Julius Randle had 20 points for the Knicks, who frittered away almost all of a 21-point third quarter lead. Alec Burks had 17 points off the bench and Reggie Bullock added 16.
For Boston, Jabari Parker had 18 points off the bench and fellow reserve Tremont Waters added 17 points as the Celtics lost their fifth game in the past six. Romeo Langford scored 14 points, Grant Williams had 13 and Carsen Edwards added 10.
The Celtics led 24-23 after one period and there were five lead changes and three ties in the second before Barrett’s layup gave the Knicks the lead for good at 37-35 with 4:23 left and began a half-ending 19-4 run in which New York scored the final 12 points.
The Celtics pulled within single digits once in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Semi Ojeleye with 7:01 left in the third quarter. The Knicks responded with an 18-6 run to take their biggest lead at 75-54 with 3:10 left. Barrett had 11 points in the surge.
The Knicks opened up a trio of 17-point leads in the fourth before the Celtics mounted a 15-0 run to close within 91-89 on a putback by Langford with 3:07 left. Randle ended an 0-for-7 stretch by New York with a layup on the next trip, but Langford hit a free throw and Waters converted a layup off a steal to pull Boston within 93-92 with 2:13 remaining.
Bullock responded with a 19-footer and the Celtics missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers. Randle iced the win by draining one of two free throws with 12.3 seconds left.
–Field Level Media