DETROIT — Take a bow, Alec Burks for saving the Knicks from a colossal embarrassment in Motown.
Burks and the second unit rallied the Knicks to a 94-85 victory over the NBA’s worst team, the Pistons, who also happened to be decimated by COVID-19.
While the starters were abysmal, Burks came off the bench to explode for 34 points in 27 minutes and guide the Knicks back from a 14-point deficit after a third quarter from hell.
Burks was spectacular and smooth in making 12 of 17 shots, 5 of 8 from 3-point land and making all five of his free throws.
The Knicks also needed 18 bench points from backup point guard Immanuel Quickley as the team moved to 17-18, set to end the year at Oklahoma City on New Year’s Eve.
The Pistons outscored the Knicks, 25-4, to start the third quarter and seize a 14-point lead as coach Tom Thibodeau was ranting and shaking his head most of the period.
The Knicks came out dead for the second half — missing 14 of their first 15 shots and committing seven turnovers.
For the second straight game, Julius Randle struggled massively, scoring five points on 2 of 11 shooting, and sat the fourth quarter as the Knicks regained control. He finished minus-27.
Point guard Kemba Walker, playing the second night of a back-to-back, had no pep and finished with two points and two assists in 20 minutes — also benched for the final frame.
The Pistons (5-28) had 11 players out — nine due to COVID-19 protocols, including Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes.
The mostly healthy Knicks had a surprise late scratch in starting shooting guard Evan Fournier, who tweaked his ankle in pregame warm-ups and sat on the bench.
Rookie Quentin Grimes started in Fournier’s place but was off kilter, bricking all five of his shots — all 3-pointers. Grimes went scoreless.
The second unit shined late in the third quarter. Burks scored on a traditional three-point play in the final seconds of the third to give the Knicks momentum entering the fourth, down 71-64.
Saddiq Bey and Queens native Hamidou Diallo led the Pistons with 32 points and 31 points, respectively.
It was a brutal start to a game that could well have been canceled if not for NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s edict for teams to sign as many replacement players as possible.
The teams combined to miss 12 of the game’s first 13 shots.
While Walker started, rookie point guard Miles McBride entered midway through the first quarter and played a nine-minute stint, providing defense as the Knicks regained the lead and led 48-41 at halftime.
When Burks drained one final 3-pointer to clinch it with 2:30 left to put the Knicks ahead by eight, even Randle was up off the bench, clapping and yelling for Burks.