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Mitchell Robinson finally came back Sunday night, as did Spike Lee, but the Knicks couldn’t pull off what would have been the most significant comeback of all.
Julius Randle forced overtime with a 3-pointer near the end of regulation, but he was called for a late loose-ball foul leading to go-ahead free throws — and then missed an 18-foot jumper as time expired for the Knicks’ second crushing loss to first-place Philadelphia in less than a week, 101-100, at the Garden.
Randle called the foul “f–king ridiculous” during a fiery postgame news conference.
Randle scored 24 points and Alec Burks finished with 20, including seven in overtime, but the Knicks fell to 21-22 ahead of two home games Tuesday and Thursday against Washington. Lee even was in attendance in his customary courtside seat for the first time since his public spat with Jim Dolan more than a year ago.
The messy game, which featured 36 combined turnovers between the two teams, was tied through three quarters. Danny Green’s floater gave Philly an 88-85 lead with 19.1 seconds remaining, but fellow Long Island product Tobias Harris clanked two free throws a few seconds later. Randle connected for a game-tying 3 from the right corner with 6.4 ticks on the clock to force overtime.
Reggie Bullock’s 3-pointer put the Knicks up 100-96 with 1:10 to play, but Harris (20 points) responded with another make from long distance. Shake Milton missed a potential go-ahead layup, but Randle was whistled for a loose ball foul on the rebound, and Harris sank the two free throws with 5.3 seconds to go for a one-point Philadelphia lead.
The game was played with two referees because Dannica Mosher was not available due to the league’s health and safety protocols, and both sides complained during the game about the officiating, with both Randle and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau earning technical fouls.
Robinson played for the first time since breaking his right hand Feb. 12 against the Wizards, and finished with four points and six rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. He appeared to be limping with a possible ankle injury in the bench area late in the fourth quarter.
Immanuel Quickley also returned after a one-game absence due to an ankle issue, scoring 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
Thibodeau said before the game that Robinson initially would play on the second unit while he regains his conditioning after starting in each of his first 27 appearances this season.
“He’ll probably come off the bench and then we’ll see where that goes. But eventually he’ll be back in the starting lineup,” Thibodeau said. “It was a hand injury so he was able to do quite a bit of cardio. But it’s different than playing in a game. We’ll watch it closely with our medical staff and we’ll see where he is when he gets out there.”
After taking part in the team’s morning shootaround, the 22-year-old Robinson said “it felt great being out there again with the guys” during a controlled practice the previous day.
Robinson didn’t wear a brace on his hand, which he said had a metal plate inserted during surgery on Feb. 16. He checked in for Noel with 3:42 remaining in the first quarter, and he contributed an inside bucket and a dunk on three shots attempts in the half.
The Sixers led by 14 points with 3:31 remaining in the second quarter, but the Knicks finished the half on a 13-0 run, featuring two 3-pointers from Quickley and a steal and layup by Barrett to close within 43-42 at intermission.
Buckets by Nerlens Noel (13 points) and RJ Barrett (19) nudged the Knicks ahead in the opening minutes of the third quarter, and they led by as many as six late in the period before the Sixers forged a 64-64 tie entering the final quarter.
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