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The New York Knicks erase a 17-point deficit in the second half to protect home court against the San Antonio Spurs.

Every game matters for the New York Knicks as the regular season draws to a close. The Knicks are trying to keep pace with the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat in the race for the four seed in the Eastern Conference.

Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Alec Burks combined to score 79 of New York’s 102 points in the victory. They were without Derrick Rose, but Burks was able to provide a nice lift off the bench.

Here are three highlights and three observations from New York’s 102-98 win over San Antonio.

Highlight 1: Alec Burks 2nd Quarter

Highlight 2: RJ Barrett 3-Pointers

Highlight 3: Frankie Clamps

Observation 1: The Knicks Clinch a Playoff Berth

Technically, the Knicks clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday when the Boston Celtics lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, the playoff berth never really feels real until a team gets a win. Now, the Knicks have officially clinched.

This is the first time the franchise is going to the playoffs since Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith led the Knicks to the second round in 2013.

With two games left to play, the Knicks are in a heated battle for seeding. The Hawks hold a half-game lead over the Knicks and Heat for the four seed. Here is how the current standings shake out in the East.

Observation 2: Playoff Feel

The start of this game was almost a flashback for anyone who remembers the Knicks-Spurs NBA Finals in 1999. The two teams started off with slow, plodding offenses and barely managed to hit 200 total points for the game. It was a playoff atmosphere in Madison Square Garden.

In fact, the Knicks followed the blueprint for how they are going to have to win games in the playoffs. Hit free throws (18-for-18), knock down open threes (14-for-35), and take care of the basketball (23 assists, 10 turnovers). If New York can do that while maintaining their top-notch defense, they will have a chance to win every playoff game they are in.

Randle needs to be the conductor of this train, but he can’t do it alone. With no Derrick Rose in the lineup, Barrett and Burks stepped up. Burks kept the Knicks going in the first half with 14 points in the second quarter.

Later, when facing a 17-point deficit, Barrett decided to flash his range. The second-year wing connected on four of his six three-point attempts in the second half. His 24 points helped New York keep pace with San Antonio on a night where Randle only hit seven of his 21 shots.

Observation 3: Enough Elfrid Payton

Tom Thibodeau is stuck on Elfrid Payton as his starting point guard, but something needs to be done. He has been a complete net-negative on the court in recent weeks and even though this is the most tired conversation on Knicks Twitter, it’s time to take Payton out of the rotation. He is -60 over New York’s last five games.

Again, we know that Thibs doesn’t want to change at this point in the season, but he has to see that he has better options. When fully healthy, the Knicks can start Rose at point guard with Burks as the point guard off the bench.

Even Frank Ntilikina, who has been contributing on limited minutes recently, would be an upgrade over Payton. The Spurs gave the Knicks a preview of what teams are going to do to Payton in the playoffs. During San Antonio’s third-quarter surge, Dejounte Murray was seeking out Payton and punishing him on what felt like every single possession.

It’s time.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.