Knicks may be running out of season in frantic seeding race

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This is the biggest Knicks-Lakers game in 48 years

Why would the Knicks change now?

How bad did it look?

This bad: there were scattered boos bouncing across Madison Square Garden in the third quarter. Boos have been few this year, and far between. Even on the rare nights when the Knicks haven’t been at their sharpest on their home floor …

Well, for starters, the 2,000 or so folks in attendance are mostly just happy to be here, instead of cooped up in their basements as they were for about 400 straight nights not long ago. Also, these are mostly Knicks fans, and they know what a boo-able basketball team really looks like.

So yes, the boos were unusual. But, yes, the Knicks had earned them. Rudy Gay made three free throws with 3:45 left in the third quarter and the Garden scoreboard insisted the Spurs, stunningly, were up 75-58. The Knicks were flatlining. Worse, in Miami and in Atlanta, the Heat were smushing the 76ers and the Hawks were smearing the Magic.

A night of celebration at the Garden — a night after the Knicks had officially cinched a playoff spot — had turned sour and sideways. The post-game excuses would have been legit — first game back off a West Coast trip is always a bear, Derrick Rose was in civvies, and he’s been the Knicks’ second-best player for weeks — but also irrelevant.

“You get into stuff together,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And you get out of stuff together.”

He was saying this easily and breezily, because the Knicks were a half-hour removed from getting out of it together, making a remarkable comeback, winning the game 102-98, keeping pace with the Hawks (40-31) and the Heat (39-31).

It took a 26-6 run over 10:15 to give the Knicks the lead back, 84-81, 7 ½ minutes left in the game. It took some clutch shooting — and 18-for-18 from the line — and it took 30 points and 10 rebounds off the bench from Alec Burks, forgotten man lately. It took an enormous run of clutch shooting from RJ Barrett. But they got out of it.

“It’s a long game,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a 48-minute game.”

The Knicks are at a strange part of the schedule right now, and it’s possible they’re running out of season to make one final vault, a final leap, sneak back into position for the 4-vs.-5 first-round series. That would allow them to avoid the Bucks in the first round, give them a true puncher’s chance at only their second postseason series win since 2000.

But they have to keep winning. And the Hawks and Heat — both playing some terrific basketball right now — have to offer a little bit of help. The Knicks can only control the first part of that equation. Somehow, Thursday night, they did. Seventy games down. Two to go.

Thibodeau was 12 years old when the Knicks won their first championship in 1970. He was 15 three years and two days later when they won their second title, a full-blown acolyte of the Red Holzman Way.

“A lot of years ago,” Thibodeau said, laughing.

Another lifetime ago, too. Thibodeau is no longer a wide-eyed Connecticut kid, joining thousands of other kids from Queens and Quogue, from The Bronx and Bensonhurst, Westchester and Jersey and Staten Island, all the precincts where the Knicks first dropped anchor in the souls of young fans.

This is his job now. Thibodeau wasn’t about to depart from his business-first, business-only demeanor, share pieces of his soul like he was handing out birthday cake, despite the Knicks securing the playoffs.

Still: he understands. He gets how meaningful this season has been for Knicks fans — specifically kids who were the same age Thibodeau was back in the day, 12-year-old kids and 15-year-old kids who have zero idea what it’s like to see a Knicks team play as this team has played, to achieve what this team has achieved.

That much he’ll cop to. He’s happy for those kids. He’s happy for those fans. He’s happy that this team has re-established what has long been an unshakeable bond between the city and its suburbs and its oldest pro hoops representative.

“Growing up in Connecticut, being here in the ’90s, knowing what basketball means to the city, it’s great that this group of guys we have reflect the kinds of things this city is all about. They’ve given them something to be proud of and that they can cheer about.”

Seventy games down. Two to go. Then the real fun begins, and you don’t have to be a kid to be eager for that.

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