BOSTON — At the line, with the game on the line, Julius Randle came through and Jaylen Brown choked.
Randle, who was mocked before the game by TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal, buried the game-winning clutch free throws with 21 seconds remaining in overtime. Brown, a certain All-Star, then missed both his attempts and New York left Boston with a 120-117 victory.
A thrilling and very unexpected ride at TD Garden.
Predictably, the Knicks blew a late lead in regulation. They were up by 12 with under five minutes remaining, then inexplicably turned into practice cones on defense while allowing Jayson Tatum to cook.
Tatum torched Randle in the fourth quarter, breezing past the Knicks defender on the perimeter while dropping 11 points in the final seven minutes. Tatum also had a chance to seal the victory but missed an open jumper in the final seconds. Celtics center Robert Williams III picked up the rebound but his putback attempt was blocked by Jericho Sims.
But Randle, who finished with 37 points (two more than Tatum), had the final say. Jalen Brunson added 29 points in 40 minutes for the Knicks (27-23), who’ve now won two straight against quality opponents.
Still, the pregame broadcast on TNT became a reminder of how the Knicks — and Randle — still need to convince everybody else. They were left off the All-Star starters, which was certainly expected and announced right before tipoff.
It only stung more as a contrast to the crosstown rival Nets, the only team with two starters. Then Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal began killing the Knicks in their typical waggish ways. Barkley was confused that the Knicks were involved in rivalry week on the network.
“They haven’t been relevant since Patrick Ewing,” Barkley said.
O’Neal mistakenly called Julius Randle, ‘Randolph.’
“Whatever his name is,” O’Neal added about the Knicks’ best player.
The Celtics led by as many as 15 in the first quarter, but the Knicks retaliated fast, took a lead in the second quarter, and had the deficit at 2 at halftime. Randle was the spark and boosted his All-Star candidacy for when the reserves are picked by the coaches.
“I think for all players, I think the more times you go through it the better you get at everything. And so we’re building some continuity,” Tom Thibodeau said. “I think he’s become more familiar with his teammates, his teammates more familiar with him. Bringing Jalen in I think has really helped. I think the number one responsibility of a point guard is to control and manage the game. And so it’s allowed Julius to play off the ball more and that’s where we can take advantage of all the different things that he can do.”
The Celtics were missing Marcus Smart, who suffered a sprained ankle last week. The Knicks played again without Mitchell Robinson, who is out for another four weeks, according to owner James Dolan, and Evan Fournier, who remained in New York following the birth of his son.