Knicks beat Timberwolves with Mitchell Robinson’s big night

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s a good thing the Timberwolves were without their top three players.

Because the Knicks’ three most prominent players weren’t on top of their games most of the night.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett struggled and Kemba Walker had a quiet evening at Target Center. Barrett was scoreless until finally breaking through with eight fourth-quarter points.

The Knicks hung on in an ugly, low-scoring affair against the Timberwolves Lite mostly because center Mitchell Robinson was a monster all night underneath and the second unit was vibrant enough to nudge the Knicks to a closer-than-it-needed-to-be 96-88 triumph.

Though they were released from COVID-19 protocols, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell were held out by the Timberwolves for conditioning. Otherwise, this could’ve been a different tale.

Robinson was a beast around the rim, cleaning up the Knicks’ many misses. He hauled in offensive rebounds, scoring on mostly put-backs and finished with a team-leading 14 points (7 of 8 from the field) and 18 rebounds. Robinson scored off two airballs — one by Randle and one by Walker.

Mitchell Robinson, who scored 14 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, slams one home during the Knicks’ 96-88 win over the Timberwolves.
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Randle was a hideous 5 of 19 with four turnovers, finishing with 13 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes. The Knicks (15-18) won their second straight in kicking off a four-game road trip.

Barrett, in his second game back from COVID-19 protocols, looked weakened and was scoreless through much of the game before finally breaking through with eight points in the fourth quarter. He finished 3 of 10, while the Knicks shot just 41 percent overall.

Walker, meanwhile, had his moments but didn’t come close to his Christmas Day triple-double — 10 points, two assists, four rebounds.

The Timberwolves were within five points with 1:11 left in a game won by the bench brigade and Robinson.

Minnesota was breathing down the Knicks’ necks before Walker got going midway through the third quarter. He canned an 18-footer, a 3-pointer and his airball shot was caught underneath by Robinson for a dunk.

Julius Randle battles Nathan Knight during the Knicks' win.
Julius Randle battles Nathan Knight during the Knicks’ win.
NBAE via Getty Images

The second unit built a 17-point lead midway through the second quarter. The quintet of Immanuel Quickley, in his return from COVID-19, Quentin Grimes (11 points, 3 of 9 on 3s) Alec Burks, Obi Toppin and Taj Gibson were flowing.

Grimes buried two straight 3-pointers, Toppin and Quickley were spreading the ball around and Gibson was scoring inside and Burks from outside.

Their lead swelled to 39-22. But when the starters began to reenter, the lead dissipated. Randle was particularly inept — having the ball stripped from him by point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who raced in for a layup that turned the momentum in Minnesota’s favor.

That 39-22 lead became a 44-41 edge by halftime with the Knicks getting outscored 22-5 to close out the second quarter. Randle was just 3 of 9 by halftime with two turnovers.

The Timberwolves trapped Walker at the perimeter and he was more ball mover than scorer in the half. He took just three shots in 16:26 and had three points.

Barrett played just 8:19 in the half with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau benching him after separate four-minute stints. He shot poorly on Christmas Day (4 of 15) and went scoreless by halftime, launching three bricks.

The depleted Timberwolves were led by the uber-athletic forward Jaden McDaniels (18 points) and Malik Beasley (20 points).

Thibodeau, back to his old stomping grounds, was booed during pregame introductions, and the Minnesota fans must be used to these type of defensive struggles when he prowls the sidelines, barking.