By BOB CHICKEN – Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — New York’s Julius Randle yelled at Phoenix’s Cam Johnson, poking him in the chest and then shoving him again for safety.
That turned out to be a big mistake.
Johnson responded with a brilliant fourth quarter after Randle was ejected and put a 3-pointer on the buzzer to finish with a career-high 38 points and give the Suns a wild 115-114 win over the Knicks on Friday night.
“I’m just grateful it went under,” Johnson said. “I love my boys.”
Johnson’s ninth 3-pointer in 12 attempts came from 31 feet at the top of the key and capped a 21-point fourth quarter that included six 3s. The NBA-leading Suns, playing without All-Star Guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker, improved to 51-12.
The Knicks looked set for an impressive away win before Randle’s untimely outburst late in the third quarter sent him to the dressing room.
Randle and Johnson were called out for technical questions after nuzzling each other and exchanging words. A referee separated the two, but then Randle raced through the referee to shove Johnson again, earning the sack.
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“I had the opportunity to keep playing,” Johnson said. “And he didn’t.”
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said: “You have to know where to stop. None of us are perfect and we will make mistakes, but you have to be disciplined.”
Johnson said the feud with Randle brewed over the course of several games between the teams. Johnson hard-shouldered Randle to his chest in Friday’s first quarter, which took his breath away and briefly sent him to the dressing room. Johnson said he felt the move “felt cheap” and set the stage for the eventual confrontation.
New York gambled away a 14-point lead in Randle’s absence, but Mitchell Robinson’s layup with 15 seconds left gave the Knicks a 113-112 lead. Alec Burks added a free throw to give the Knicks a 114-112 advantage – but missed his second try – and gave the Suns a chance in the dying seconds.
Then Johnson capped his big night with his biggest shot, sinking the long 3-pointer after Cam Payne drove the court and turned the ball back to Johnson. The sniper aimed far but hit the glass and hoop to set off a wild celebration.
“I just couldn’t stop saying, ‘I’m proud of you bro,'” Suns forward Jae Crowder said.
The Knicks – up 86-76 when Randle was thrown – have lost seven straight games.
“I said to our guys after the interaction — ‘Okay, we’re going to win this game,'” Williams said. “We just had to have the mental strength to take possession one after the other. When we see our group, the Huddles, it always felt like we weren’t there.”
Randle scored 25 points and Robinson added 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Paul has been out since February 16 with a broken thumb and could miss the rest of the regular season. Booker has missed his second straight game because he is on the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol.
Payne finished the tournament with 17 points and 16 assists. Mikal Bridges had 20 points.
Knicks: All five starters got double-digit points. … Slam dunk winner Obi Toppin had a late scrape with a strained left hamstring.
Suns: Hosted 20th consecutive sellout audience of 17,071 at Footprint Center. … The team’s bench scored 50 points, led by Johnson’s 38. Aaron Holiday added 10 and JaVale McGee added two. … It was Johnson’s first technician of his career.
Knicks: On Sunday with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Suns: On Sunday in Milwaukee.
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