The Knicks hadn’t been able to solve the Houston Rockets prior to Leon Rose.
Helped by a morning shoot-around pep talk from the new president, who officially joined the organization Monday, the Knicks snapped their eight-game losing streak to the small-ball Rockets at the Garden with RJ Barrett the hero in a 125-123 Garden thriller.
Routed a week ago in Houston, the Knicks were led by Barrett’s career-high-tying 27-point explosion and his game-sealing driving hoop with 7.6 seconds left.
The Knicks limited James Harden for most of the game, but he came on to finish with 35 points.
Down by two, the Rockets had one last go at it, and Russell Westbrook missed a jumper from the free-throw line with Frank Ntilikina hounding him at the buzzer.
Harden, who scored 61 in his prior Garden outing last January, missed a biggie 30 seconds earlier when he clanked a runner in the lane with his team trailing by one.
It came down to Barrett, who drove left on Eric Gordon and scored on a banker, putting the Knicks up by three as Rose applauded from his seat with 7.6 seconds left. Barrett finished 10-of-18 from the field.
The Knicks (19-42) also pounded the Rockets, who have gone without a traditional center since trading Clint Capela, on the glass, 65-34.
Rose sat in the usual management seats behind the visitor’s bench — next to GM Scott Perry, capologist Michael Arciero and longtime executive Jamie Matthews.
Former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni carried a 7-0 record against the Knicks as Rockets coach before Monday. At one point in the first half, the Knicks held a 21-point cushion, thanks in part to a monster first quarter from Barrett, who continued his hot hand from the prior game against Chicago. Barrett, who scored 17 first-half points against the Bulls, racked up 14 points the opening period against Houston and 19 by halftime.
One week ago in Houston, Barrett also went nuts against the Rockets in the first period, going for 17 points before the Rockets made adjustments to their defense.
The best part of Barrett’s output Monday was that it came from both the 3-point line and from snaking to the basket, using his quick acceleration. Barrett was 3-of-6 from the 3-point line — 7-of-11 overall. Knicks interim coach Mike Miller believes Barrett’s recent surge over the past week is due to his previously sprained ankle now being 100 percent.
It was made even sweeter with fellow Dukie and Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the Garden stands.
With a buyout no longer an option for Wayne Ellington, who isn’t eligible for a playoff roster because he did not clear waivers by Sunday, the shooting guard came off the bench to pour in 12 first-half points, all from 3-point range, on 4-of-5 shooting.