The New York Knicks tipped off the second half of the season Thursday night in Milwaukee against a Bucks team they had dismantled back in December. Tom Thibodeau’s club entered the second portion of the season a game above .500. They were surprisingly sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The fortitude of the Knicks will be tested right away as they meet three of the top four teams in the conference in the first week. Hopefully the opening leg of the stretch is not an indicator of what is to come.
The Knicks (19-19) sported one of the best defenses in the NBA over the first 37 contests, but on this night had their All-Star game-like defense on display as the Bucks (23-14) rolled to a 134 -101 win at the Fiserv Forum. New York usually only yields around 102 points a night to opponents, but Milwaukee powered their way to 97 after just the third quarter as the Knicks allowed their most points of the season.
“We didn’t take care of the transition,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We didn’t take care of the paint. We didn’t take care of covering the line. And then we didn’t finish our defense with rebounding well. They pretty much got everything that they wanted.”
Point guard Derrick Rose was still unavailable to the Knicks due to COVID-19 protocols and he was clearly missed. Without the veteran at the controls the Knicks seemed out of sync.
Things looked positive early for the Knicks as they hit seven of their first 11 shots to open a 14-9 lead. However, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Bucks had gone up 30-18 led by a pair of deep treys from from Brook Lopez. Immanuel Quickley came in to give New York a lift late in the quarter. Quickley nailed a pair of treys in scoring seven points in the frame to bring the Knicks within 32-27 with a 9-2 run.
In the second Alec Burks got into the act. Burks connected on a three-pointer to bring New York within 38-35. Next, he completed a traditional three-point play to slice the Knicks deficit to 40-38. Unphased, Milwaukee went on a 16-6 run that left them with a 56-44 advantage, then extended their lead to 16. The Bucks led 68-51 at the half.
One factor that allowed Milwaukee to assume control before the break was their defense on New York all-star Julius Randle. Randle had a rare poor first two quarters, going 1-for-8 from the field and scoring only three points. He spent the evening surrounded by more Bucks than a springtime doe in the forest as Milwaukee double and tripled teamed him all night. Randle ended the night with a mere seven points.
“I just didn’t play well offensively and they hit shots,’’ Randle said. “I’m not going to make excuses for it. It is what it is. I’m not really trying to balance it out.”
The Bucks shot 57% from the field in the opening 24 minutes compared to 43% for the Knicks. Points in the paint also favored the home team as the Bucks outscored the Knicks 34-14. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo was well on his way to a potential triple double with 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists over the first two quarters.
New York came out uninspired and slow footed in the third. Jrue Holiday five points in a row as the lead ballooned to 22. Enter the Knicks bench once again. Burks again gave his team a boost. Trailing 88-66 Burks scored a pair of buckets and RJ Barrett tossed in a runner to pull New York back to within 16 with 3:38 to go in the stanza forcing a Milwaukee timeout.
The Bucks recovered after a talking to from coach Mike Budenholzer. The Knicks were able prevent too much damage thanks to the solid play of Burk and RJ Barrett, but Milwaukee led 97-78 heading to the fourth.
Milwaukee opened the final frame by scoring the first seven points to make New York’s uphill climb even steeper. When Bryn Forbes knocked down a three-pointer the Bucks led 104-78 and the Knicks couldn’t mount a challenge.
Antetokounmpo did indeed record a triple-double with 24 points 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Forbes contributed 21 off the bench. Lopez and Khris Middleton chipped in 14 apiece.
Barrett provided the Knicks with a sliver of a silver lining with 22 points. Burks finished with 17 and Quickley 15.
“We got to get right back to it,’’ Randle said. “OKC next. We won’t worry about this one.’’
New York will look to get back on track Saturday afternoon when they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)