Knicks point guard mystery may finally be solved after Derrick Roses dominance

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Derrick Rose did not start Wednesday night for the Knicks. If you want to decipher any meaning out of that, knock yourself out. You will not get anywhere.

To say that Rose came off the bench in Game 2 of the Knicks-Hawks playoff series is factually accurate and spiritually irrelevant. He is the point guard, pure and simple, as it appears as if coach Tom Thibodeau is going to ride Rose’s 32-year-old legs as long as the Knicks have the basketballs out in the postseason.

Rose played 39 minutes, scored a team-high 26 points and is turning back the clock just as the Knicks need him to regain his youthful stamina. Without him, the Knicks do not mount a comeback to beat the Hawks 101-92 to even their playoff series.

“I’m good, man,’’ Rose said of his extended workload. “I prep myself for this. I’ve been working my butt off for a couple of years now, get my body right, take care of myself pretty good. I don’t want to say too much about that. Don’t want to jinx myself. I’m good.’’

Not bad for a guy who does not start. Not technically, that is.

Elfrid Payton, after a dismal series opener — and, really, a dismal few final few months of the season — retained his spot in the starting lineup, much to the chagrin of the throaty Garden crowd, as Payton was booed lustily when he was announced during pregame introductions.

What the heck did Payton do in the first game to warrant retaining his spot in the lineup?

“You look at the game, you look at what’s going on, it’s a two-point game and it comes down to a loose ball,’’ Thibodeau said of Game 1. “So get out there, get the job done, play defense, run the team. We’re going to use everyone.’’

It remains to be seen if Thibodeau opts to use Payton again. He had one point and missed both his shots from the floor before he was pulled with 6:57 remaining in the first quarter, with the Knicks trailing 14-7. Payton never hit the court again.

When the second half started, Rose was out there with the starting lineup.

“We just felt we were flat and we needed a jolt of energy,’’ Thibodeau said.

“I just wanted to change it up. I thought we had to do something different and that’s why you have a bench.’’

Without Rose, the Knicks would have been in a deeper hole than the 57-44 deficit they took into halftime. He led the Knicks with 14 points and was doing all he could to offset the scoring woes of Julius Randle, who missed all six of his shots in the first half and had just two points.

Rose hit a step-back late in the third quarter to pull the Knicks within 76-73 and then finally got a respite early in the fourth quarter, with Thibodeau not wanting to empty the tank on the veteran for the stretch run. The second unit got the lead and Rose then made sure it stuck. His one-hander from the lane broke a 91-91 tie, putting the Knicks ahead 93-91 with 4:46 left, a lead they would never relinquish.

“Last game we felt like we weren’t in tune the way we were supposed to,’’ Rose said. “I know personally I felt that way, and coming in, I wanted to play with intensity and just try to play as hard as I could and follow my teammates. I felt like I played sluggish last game. To get the win at the end after going through everything we went through in the game, fighting, scratching and clawing to get there, playing against a great young team. So to get that far and play the way that we played, to come back and get the lead, to win, it shows fight. People stepped up and made big plays.’’

Rose did not shoot especially well — 9 of 21 — but he was willing to take shots, at times almost forcing the issue when his teammates were hesitant.

Thibodeau also broke his usual rotation by keeping center Taj Gibson on the court for 30 minutes, and was rewarded when Gibson was active on the boards (seven rebounds) and scored six points. The Knicks were plus-23 when Gibson was in the game.

“Both [Rose] and Taj have been in a number of playoff games,’’ Thibodeau said. “I think they understand it. We have some guys that haven’t played playoff games. They’ll get better as we go. There’s only one way to get playoff experience, and you gotta get it. Each game I think they’ll get better. I think you learn from each game, each situation. But I think the fact that those guys have been in big games before is a big plus for our team.”

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