Austin Rivers’ insane 3-point spurt propels red-hot Knicks

Austin Rivers is becoming the Knicks’ Mariano Rivera — an elite closer with ice water in his veins.

No lead is safe against these Knicks. And Rivers.

Two days after rallying from 15 points down in Atlanta, the Knicks came home and roared back from an 18-point hole to wipe out the Jazz, 112-100, at the empty Garden with more late fourth-quarter magic from Rivers.

In his first game as a Knick at the Garden, Doc Rivers’ son scored 14 straight points down the stretch that included four straight 3-pointers and a floater with the shot clock winding down.

The Knicks moved to 5-3 after winning their fifth game in six outings. It’s their best record after eight games since the magical 2012-13 season.

Rivers finished with 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Rivers has been sensational in the fourth quarters of the last three games after missing all preseason and the season’s first five games with a groin pull.

“I love this stage,’’ Rivers said. “I know every player says that when they come here, but I really do. I thrive on it. You have to be OK with missing a shot, making the wrong play. If you have the ball in your hands at the end of the game, you can’t worry about the makes and misses. You have to trust yourself and live with the outcome.”

Austin Rivers puts up a jumper during the Knicks' 112-100 win over the Jazz.
Austin Rivers puts up a jumper during the Knicks’ 112-100 win over the Jazz.
NBAE via Getty Images

Coach Tom Thibdodeau said he watched Rivers grow up, as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers when Austin was in high school. So this insane spree isn’t shocking Thibodeau.

“I’ll tell you one thing,’’ Thibodeau said, “he’s never lacked confidence.”

Thibodeau recalled Rivers would attend Celtics practice during their 2007-08 title season.

“He wanted to play them one-on-one, including Kevin Garnett,’’ Thibodeau said. “Rivers wanted to play [Kevin]. Austin really thought he could beat him.’’

“In my crazy mind, I thought I was better than them at the time,’’ Rivers confirmed.

Nothing’s crazier than Julius Randle’s start. In continuing an All-Star-level season, Randle looked weary in the first half before leading the charge and logging another 39 minutes with the Knicks decimated up front. He registered 30 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.

“It’s a lot of fun, honestly,’’ Randle said. “It’s unfortunate we can’t have fans in here to experience this team. It’s amazing the growth of this team. The fans will be here soon. We all signed up for a rocking Garden.’’

Rivers, who played the past two seasons with the Rockets and before that with the Clippers, knows what a winning team feels like. And he feels it here despite seven straight losing seasons.

“I’ve been on bad teams before and this isn’t one,’’ Rivers said. “I promise you that. I don’t know where we wind up. But I do know the spirit is there, the willingness to work and learn is different. The coaching is different. This is not the Knicks team y‘all have been covering. We have a whole different thing here.’’

Randle and Rivers got plenty of assistance. Starting shooting guard Reggie Bullock, a game-time decision with a sore knee, registered 12 points, hitting 5 of 8 shots and made a big hustle play in grabbing a loose ball at midcourt in the final two minutes.

Point guard Elfrid Payton got into the paint and added 22 points and eight assists, and Mitchell Robinson added nine points, pulled down 13 boards with three steals and three blocks.

Payton and Rivers were the closers with rookie star Immanuel Quickley sitting on the sidelines.

“He’s extremely confident, he’s hit tremendously big shots down the stretch,’’ Randle said. “I’m so happy for him. I want him to continue playing with that energy and confidence. He’s been amazing.’’

“There was no panic,’’ Rivers said. “We just talked about hunting them down and everybody started having fun.’’

It wasn’t fun for Randle, who picked up three offensive fouls in the first half and began 3 of 10 before powering the third-quarter comeback.

“He’s our engine,’’ Thibodeau said. “It tells you the importance of being in great shape is. To win games late, you have to be in great shape.’’

A 34-19, turnover-free third quarter brought the Knicks back from their lethargic start as they took a 78-75 lead in rallying all the way back from an 18-point hole.

To end the third quarter, the Knicks made two sterling defensive plays leading to transition hoops. Kevin Knox registered a rare block, leading to a Payton fast-break layup to give the Knicks their first lead since early in the first quarter.

Then Rivers started his great night. He knocked the ball away from Utah’s Joe Ingles, springing RJ Barrett for a breakaway dunk in the quarter’s final seconds, capping an 8-0 run.

And then Rivers, who signed a three-year, $10 million deal but with only the first season guaranteed, became the perfect player in the fourth quarter. Again.

“He always finds a way to work himself into a rotation, starting lineup,’’ Thibodeau said. “A big part of the modern NBA for [point guards] is being able to play off the ball and defend. He checks all three of those boxes.’’

New York Post

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