Jalen Brunson was back on the floor, but Julius Randle suddenly has been added to the Knicks’ mounting list of significant injury concerns as the playoffs approach.
Randle, the Knicks’ leading scorer and their only player to start every game this season, suffered a sprained left ankle late in the first half and did not return, but the Knicks still gutted out a pivotal and nearly playoff-clinching victory, 101-92, over the Heat amid high but mixed emotions Wednesday night at the Garden.
Randle stayed on the floor for several seconds and came up limping heavily after his left foot landed on Bam Adebayo’s foot following a shot attempt with 2:38 left in the second quarter.
He walked it off and temporarily remained in the game to sink one of two free throws, before hobbling badly to the locker room at the next whistle.
MSG Networks cameras showed the two-time All-Star doubled over in pain in the runway leading to the locker room after departing the game.
Knicks’ players and training staff help Julius Randle to his feet. He left with an ankle injury and did not return.Robert Sabo for NY Post
Immanuel Quickley scored 24 points and Quentin Grimes nailed five 3-pointers and finished with 23 as the fifth-place Knicks (44-33) moved four full games clear of the No. 7 Heat and the play-in cutoff in the Eastern Conference — while sealing a 3-1 victory in the season-series tiebreaker — with five games remaining beginning Friday night in Cleveland.
Brunson did not play in the fourth quarter after scoring 12 points in 30 minutes through three in his return to the lineup, wearing a protective brace around his sprained right hand and wrist area after missing the previous two games.
The $104 million point guard also had missed five games earlier this month with a sore left foot, with the Knicks going 5-6 over the 11 game-stretch in which he sat out seven times.
Gabe Vincent scored 21 points, Tyler Herro had 16 and Jimmy Butler was held to 12 for the Heat, who also had lost Tuesday night in Toronto.
With Brunson back in the lineup, Quickley returned to his customary sixth-man role after netting a career-best 40 points on 14 of 18 shooting with nine assists as the Knicks halted their three-game losing streak Monday night against the Rockets.
Quentin Grimes, who scored 23 points, goes up for a layup during the Knicks’ 101-92 win over the Heat.Robert Sabo for NY Post
Mitchell Robinson got the crowd going early with a dunk on the Knicks’ first shot attempt and Grimes followed with consecutive 3-pointers for a quick 8-0 lead, but the Heat scored the next 14 points to curb any thoughts of an early runaway.
The Knicks missed nine straight shots and committed four turnovers over an ugly six-minute stretch until Grimes knocked down his third triple of the quarter.
Despite RJ Barrett (12 points) and Randle getting shut out on eight missed shots between them in the first quarter — and the Knicks committing seven turnovers overall and missing their first six free-throw attempts — they trailed only by four, 23-19, entering the second.
Immanuel Quickley scored a team-high 24 points for the Knicks in the win.Robert Sabo for NY Post
The Heat pushed that lead to 10 with a 7-1 period-opening spurt, but Quickley sparked an 11-0 response with a trey and a traditional three-point play.
A put-back by Josh Hart (13 points, eight rebounds) and Obi Toppin’s 3-pointer put the Knicks ahead by one.
Randle (three points) didn’t score until 4:28 remained in the second, but his drive to the hoop gave the Knicks a 37-35 lead.
Following Randle’s departure, Brunson netted the final five points of the quarter, including an uplifting corner-3 at the horn, for a 48-46 Knick advantage at intermission.
Jalen Brunson, driving on Jimmy Butler, scored 12 points in his return to the Knicks’ lineup.Robert Sabo for NY Post
Toppin (six points) replaced Randle to open the third, and he knocked down a 3-pointer barely two minutes into the quarter. Barrett had clanked his first eight field-goal attempts before connecting for a spinning drive and a right-side trey to put the Knicks ahead 66-64 with 3:30 left in the period.
Quickley poured in the Knicks’ final seven points of the quarter as the teams were tied, 76-76, headed into the final period.
Barrett’s turnaround floater nudged the Knicks ahead by two with 7:12 to go, before breakaway dunks by Hart and Grimes capped an 8-0 spurt and electrified the home crowd with a 94-85 lead with 5:02 remaining.