LOS ANGELES — The Knicks usually struggle when Julius Randle struggles. But not when Derrick Rose plays like an MVP — and not when they get 3-point marksmanship from Reggie Bullock.
In the final regular-season home game for the Clippers, the Knicks spoiled the Sunday-matinee party with a resounding and sensational 106-100 victory before 2,578 relatively passive fans at Staples Center.
And now it might be time for Tom Thibodeau to look into making a starting-point guard change, finally.
Coming off the bench for a struggling Elfrid Payton, Rose carried the Knicks (38-30) on his shoulders with an MVP-type first half. Rose finished with 25 points and eight assists in 31 minutes.
Reggie Bullock, once a Clippers’ draft pick, poured in 24 points, making 5 of 11 3-pointers. Julius Randle made three big baskets down the stretch, but finished with just 14 points on 7 of 19 shooting with four turnovers. He also had 13 rebounds.
The Knicks assured themselves of a .500 trip on this six-game Western swing that was so feared. The Knicks — 3-2 on the trip — finish it off in the same arena versus the Lakers on Tuesday. The win reversed their blowout loss the Clippers in January at the Garden.
The Knicks fans on hand made their presence felt — making it as loud after a Knicks bucket as when the Clippers scored, and Randle heard “-V-P’’ chants after his late makes. The polite atmosphere was a far cry from the cauldron the Knicks faced in Phoenix on Friday when they played before an NBA season-high 8,063 fans.
When it was over, Knicks president Leon Rose congratulated every player as they came off the court, then punched the air toward a throng of cheering Knicks fans.
Bullock drilled a corner 3 to increase the Knicks lead to 79-69 late in the third and turned toward the Clippers’ bench.
In the first half, Rose pumped in 19 points and seven assists in 17 minutes making 9 of 10 shots. Rose’s lone miss was a 3-pointer. Otherwise, he scored on a flurry of runners, pull-up midrange jumpers or drives to the way to the bucket. In the fourth quarter, he heated up from 3-point territory.
Rose entered the game 5:19 in for the struggling Payton, who finished with two points.
RJ Barrett bounced back from his inbounds blunder in Phoenix to finish with 18 points and a big block on Paul George in the final two minutes.
With Payton running the show, the Knicks missed their first seven shots, and fell behind 10-0 before their rally. The Knicks hit another level when Rose entered and made all four of his shots, keeping the Knicks in the game. The Knicks trailed 29-26 after one against the veteran-laden Clippers.
With Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks both missing their second-straight game, Frank Ntilikina got some rare action and was 1 of 4 in six shaky minutes.
The Frenchman started horrifically, air-balling a corner 3, air-balling a runner in the lane, then committing a foul on the rebound. However, he drained a corner 3 two possessions later before missing his next 3-pointer.
Tyronn Lue, who worked on the Celtics staff with Thibodeau, hugged the Knicks coach minutes before tipoff.
“I’m not surprised,’’ Lue said of the Knicks’ turnaround. “I knew he’d change the culture. I knew they’d be prepared, knew they’d have accountability, knew they’d have great defense. Young guys have bought in. It starts with Julius Randle and Barrett. Those two have bought in. Throughout Thibs career, any team that bought in has been successful.’’
Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points but on just 7 of 25 shooting as the Knicks nearly held the high-powered Clippers to under 100 points.