It was a moral victory. The game was closer than the score. These cliches are often used in sports. Both came to mind Sunday after the New York Knicks challenged Los Angeles hard before falling to the Clippers 129-115 at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks (9-12) showed that they are getting closer. They just didn’t quite have the firepower to hang with one of the NBA’s elite teams for 48 minutes.
The Clippers (16-5) entered the game as the top rated three-point shooting team in the league. And it was perimeter shooting that propelled them to victory. The Clippers shot 17-for-38 from beyond the arc, good for 44.7%. It wasn’t even stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George that did the damage. Role players such as Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Patrick Patterson and former Knick Marcus Morris had a role in the scorching hot shooting.
New York came into the matinee with the best defense in the NBA. The Knicks however simply did not have enough weapons. It wasn’t the team’s best effort on defense according to coach Tom Thibodeau who thought his players were late closing out shooters.
“They put a lot of pressure on you,” Thibodeau said after the game. “We work, but they put tremendous pressure on you. They also, to their credit, and there’s a reason why they have that record, they play very hard and they play very unselfishly. “I thought offensively, it was good. Defensively, it’s not what we would have liked.”
Both teams came out smoking to start the contest shooting over 50% from the field in the see-saw first half. The Knicks led by as much as seven in the first quarter after a runner by RJ Barrett. A three-pointer from Julius Randle gave the Knicks a 57-54 lead in the second. Leonard answered with a trey of his own to get the Clippers even. Los Angeles went to the halftime break with a 66-65 advantage.
The Clippers opened the third on a 7-0 run. New York struggled to stay close. The margin expanded to 92-82 as Los Angeles took the first double-digit lead of the afternoon. Jackson led the way with a three-pointer and a strong drive and finish. He had 11 points in the quarter. Tyron Lue’s charges led by nine heading to the fourth.
In the final stanza the Clippers led 105-95 with under eight minutes to play. Immanuel Quickley scored 11 points in the quarter including a pair of deep threes to pull New York within 105-103 with 7:44 to go. Leonard then led Los Angeles on a 19-6 run to put the game out of reach.
“One hundred and fifteen points should be good enough to get a win,” Thibodeau said. “The thing is, you have to play 48 minutes against them. I thought we played overall very well in the first half, but the start of the third quarter, we started slowly and it gave them a cushion. And then we played from behind and that made it different for us.”
“I feel like we tried the best we could. Our energy and effort, I feel like, was there. They just made some really good plays, so credit to them. … Honestly, I feel like we did a good job, just not a great job, not good enough to beat a team like that,” Quickley added.
Leonard led a balanced Clipper’s attack with 28 points. Jackson finished with 18 and George 17. Ibaka (15), Patterson (13) and Morris (11) also finished in double-figures.
Randle continued his torrid early season pace as he recorded a double-double with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Quickley added 25 points and Barrett 23. Elfrid Payton contributed 10.
New York now heads to Chicago for a pair of games beginning with a 7:30 p.m. game Monday night.
(Brad Penner/Pool Photo via AP)
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