MEMPHIS — It was a hot and humid May afternoon in Memphis.
But at night, nothing is hotter than the Knicks.
The Knicks didn’t have their starting center in Nerlens Noel, and Alec Burks was making a return from a long COVID-19 absence, but the Knicks’ freight train rolled a season-high 44-point second quarter en route to a 118-104 blowout of the Grizzlies on Monday at FedExForum.
The hero was backup point guard Derrick Rose, who didn’t just display his MVP form of 10 years ago but looked like he was back at the University of Memphis leading the Tigers to the national championship game.
With some fans wearing his old “23’’ blue college jersey, Rose’s jump shot never looked truer and he hit three driving baskets down the stretch to finish with a season-high 25 points. He has shot 19 of 26 in his last two games.
Julius Randle added 28 points (5 of 8 on 3-pointers) and Burks hit his first four shots before tweaking his ankle late.
The game got salty late with Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins and the neutralized point guard Ja Morant getting ejected for arguing and sending the home crowd into a booing frenzy.
Savvy, smart and tough, the Knicks have clinched a winning record (37-28) with seven games left in posting their 12th victory in 13 games.
This craziness started with a fourth-quarter comeback versus the Grizzlies on April 9 and nobody knows when it will end. The Knicks’ six-game Western trip is off to a 2-0 start with Denver, Phoenix, the Clippers and Lakers waiting.
The Knicks’ first winning season since 2012-13 was never envisioned in December — not even by Knicks GM Scott Perry and senior vice president William Wesley, who sat next to the team bench soaking it all in. After the buzzer, Perry and Wesley each congratulated coach Tom Thibodeau.
After missing their first six shots and falling behind 6-0, the Knicks were a joy to watch the rest of the first half. Ball sharing, shot making and a little fast breaking had them on top of the speedy Grizzlies, 69-58, at halftime.
Morant, Memphis’ young stud point guard, was completely shut down (eight points, 2-for-12). Morant’s low moment came late in the third quarter when he tried to throw the ball off the backboard to himself. Randle grabbed it instead and fired downcourt to Barrett for a lefty fast-break stuff and an 87-75 lead.
The Knicks got a boost from the return of Burks. After missing eight straight games, Burks didn’t miss a beat. Burks hit his first shot attempt after starting the second quarter — a 3-pointer that went in, out and back in.
Burks made all three of his shots for seven points in the half and fed Obi Toppin for an alley-oop, racking up two assists.
The red-hot Rose was a monster from deep, adding 15 points in 13:42 off the bench. Rose’s jumper continued to sizzle as he banged in 6 of 7 shots by intermission.
Randle hit a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to boost the Knicks into a 69-58 lead at halftime. That got them to a 44-point second quarter — a season high.
They finished the half at 11 of 18 from 3-point range — shocking the preseason pundits who projected 3-point shooting would be their undoing.
The Grizzlies got off to a hot start with burly center Jonan Valanciunas sparking an early lead as the Knicks temporarily missed their starting center Nerlens Noel. But Taj Gibson eventually imposed his will and wound up with three blocks. Third-string center Norvel Pelle registered two blocks.
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