The “We Want Quickley’’ chant began late in the first quarter when Sacramento was putting together a rare run.
With 2:44 left in the quarter, Immanuel Quickley was inserted into the game and he didn’t disappoint the second giddy Garden gathering of the season.
In sparking the Knicks with 18 first-half points, Quickley led the offensive explosion in a 140-121 triumph over sagging Sacramento as the popular rookie point guard emerged from his recent slump.
Quickley finished with 25 points, hitting all 12 of his free throws.
Along with Julius Randle, Quickley even heard “M-V-P’’ chants on another joyous evening before 2,000 fans who seemed to be chanting “De-fense” or something else all evening.
The Knicks’ 140 points were a season high and only the second time they have mustered that number in a non-overtime game since 1988. Though it came against the NBA’s worst defensive team, it was a big boon for a club that has been the NBA’s least productive team offensively.
“I heard it on the bench,’’ Quickley said of the Garden singing his name. “It was kind of funny. I was laughing under my mask so nobody can see my expression. It was pretty cool to have the whole crowd behind you and back you up like that. I try never to get too high or low.”
Randle, hearing M-V-P chants a second straight game, put together another bull-in-a-china-shop performance with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Alec Burks, piling it up mostly in fourth-quarter garbage time, racked up a season-high 24 points.
The Knicks buried 19 of 36 from 3-point land.
“We were sharing the ball, moving the ball, trusting each other, making the extra pass,’’ Quickley said. “We’ve taken a big step with the offense.’’
Derrick Rose made his first start of the season at point guard because of Elfrid Payton’s hamstring injury and added 18 points as the Knicks moved to one game below .500 at 16-17. The Kings (12-20) lost their ninth straight, but who is quibbling?
“Everybody really enjoys hanging out and playing with each other, helping each other make plays, top to bottom,’’ Randle said. “We’re a close-knit group.”
The Knicks racked up a 77-point first half, shooting 65.9 percent and staved off any Kings’ charge thereafter.
They almost got to 80 in that opening half but a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer by Reggie Bullock was waved off because he stepped on the sideline. However, the Knicks had plenty by then — a 77-63 lead.
Rose started the game with a flair, going 5-for-5 in the first quarter and finished with 13 first-half points. But the antsy, charged-up fans, with the Kings on an 11-0 run, began the Quickley chant.
When Quickley entered late in the first quarter, the Kentucky rookie got to work, immediately nailing a 3-pointer. He drew fouls, drained a floater and piled up 18 points in 9:36. His spectacular free-throw shooting continued as he moved over 95 percent.
“He’s real clever,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He studies how he’s being guarded. He’s such a great free-throw shooter we want as many as we can get.’’
Quickley’s 3-for-22 slump across the previous three games were put in the distance. As first reported by The Post, the NBA will not hold the Rising Stars Challenge for top rookies and sophomores, but will announce an honorary team. Quickley all but sealed his spot.
“It’s a long season,’’ Thibodeau said. “No player shoots well in all 82 games. There’s ups and downs. He’s managed that extremely well. He’s a great shooter, has an ability to draw fouls. Everyone has a ton of confidence in him. We know he’s got a lot of confidence in himself. It starts with preparation. He’s a gym rat and student of the game.’’
In another slap at Austin Rivers, Frank Ntilikina was placed back in the rotation with Payton out. Ntilikina, due to a sprained knee, COVID-19 protocols and being taken out of the rotation, hadn’t played in a game since Dec. 29.
He didn’t look rusty and scored seven points and had three steals in 23:35. stole a ball from De’Aaron Fox to start a fast break and fed Quickley for a 3-pointer.
The coaches felt Quickley’s made free throws early in the game allowed him to relax.
“It’s always good to see them go down,’’ Quickley said. “Anytime I can get to the line it helps with the rhythm. It’s good to get easy ones to go down early.’’