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Bucks 134, Knicks 101: “It’s kinda believable”

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From here on out, the going gets tough.

NBA: New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

For the eighth time in nine years, the Knicks lost their first game after the All-Star break, this time a 134-101 drubbing courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks. New York’s remaining games is a rough trick: after playing the league’s second-easiest schedule so far, their strength of schedule the rest of the way is fourth-toughest. Anything is possible in this year’s Eastern conference Plinko, where the fourth seed is only a game up in the loss column on the 11th. This game could have been a playoff preview; if so, it was a stark reminder that the little engine that could is a long way from going toe-to-toe with a true title contender.

This was the Knicks’ worst loss of the season and the most points they’ve surrendered in a regulation game since January of 2020 against the L.A. Clippers. There were precious few highlights in this one, so heed Janis and get it while you can.

The Knicks opened hot, hitting seven of their first 11 shots, crowned by a Julius Randle 3-pointer. It’d be the last basket Randle would make for about a week and the last time the Knicks would be up. The Bucks ripped off a 14-0 run and the Knicks lost RJ Barrett to early foul trouble, a fatal blow on a night when Barrett scored 22 on 60% from the field while the other four starters combined for 27 on 29%. Your first sign it was just one of those nights: a late run as the first quarter wound down saw the Knicks down five when, in the final seconds, Frank Ntilikina grabbed a defensive rebound, went the length of the floor, drove to the iron and drew a shooting foul...only to miss both free throws.

Alec Burks put up a quick 10-spot early in the second, which raised hopes, and Taj Gibson was competing defensively against Giannis Antetokounmpo, which raised them some more, and then the Bucks went off in transition and up a dozen, then 14, and eventually 17 at the half.

Problems for the Knicks included but were not limited to: getting slaughtered on the glass (by intermission Milwaukee had nearly doubled New York’s rebound total), Randle shooting 1-of-8 and seemingly every single turnover resulting in fast points for the Bucks. The home team had a 57/47/92 slash line at halftime and outscored the ‘bockers by 10 points on 2-pointers and seven on free throws. The Bucks looked like a team that came into the game intent on sending a message, if not to the Knicks then the rest of the East. The Knicks looked like a team that didn’t know what neighborhood they’d wandered into.

The second-half saw the Bucks up no fewer than 16 and as many as 38.

Milwaukee dominated New York on points in the paint. Randle’s struggles don’t explain that completely, but when your All-Star big has nearly as many turnovers as points you’re fighting with one arm tied behind your back. With the Bucks up 27 with eight minutes left and their starters still out there, defending with such intensity you’d have thought it was a playoff game, the Knicks looked like the Black Knight against King Arthur.

Always look on the bright side of life: after basically a week off, no Knick played 30 minutes last night. As Team Thibs continues its playoff chase, this may be as well-rested as they get.

Notes:

  • Randle’s streak of 47 straight games scoring in double-figures was snapped. The NBA record belongs to LeBron James, who is at 1,032 straight games and counting. I can’t take 1,032 steps in a row without stumbling at some point. James is absurd.
  • Only twice before last night had Obi Toppin played at least 19 minutes in a game. His 10 points and 5 rebounds was just the second time he’s reached those numbers in the same game.
  • Immanuel Quickley entered the night having missed only six free throws all season. He missed three in this one.
  • Frank went at Giannis one-on-one and it went exactly as you’d expect it to. Like Ntilikina stumbled into a Mortal Kombat fatality.
  • Nerlens Noel fared better going mano a mano with the two-time defending MVP.
  • Elfrid Payton nearly converted an and-one, but the ball — which was literally like 80% down — spun in some unprecedented direction, one glimpsed only in the daydreams of prophets and the nightmares of madmen, and popped out. I have never in my life seen someone’s ball move or spin or not-spin the way Payton’s shot does (or doesn’t). I’ve seen cats like Toppin and Kevin Knox launch parabolas and seen the frozen rope of a jumper Anthony Mason somehow made work. Payton’s ball zings around like the Wonkavator.
  • How long have you followed the NBA? What keeps you going? This is the only sport I’ve never walked away from, even for a little bit. Quit the NFL and college sports about 10 years ago. Before SNY the Mets weren’t always on TV where I live, so in lean years I could let MLB slip off the radar. Basketball hits different than all the rest. One of many reasons why: I love seeing how evolution plays out in the game. Seeing Brook Lopez go from low-post locksmith to stretch-5 or Rudy Gay from athletic wing to matching up with 4s and 5s is just so cool. If you saw David Cone as a fireballing young pitcher and then as a wily off-speed ninja in his later years, you dig.
  • Mike Breen mentioned that the officiating crew (crew chief Tyler Ford, Jacyn Goble and Jenna Schroder) had a combined 13 years experience, the fewest he recalled ever having seen.
  • Breen and Clyde Frazier were discussing Payton getting open looks when Clyde told a story from his playing days. In a timeout Frazier told Dick Barnett he was open. Barnett replied, “There’s a reason you’re open.”

Quoth my eight-year-old as I kvetched during the blowout: “It’s kinda believable.” Believe this: the rest of the month doesn’t get any easier. The Knicks have 10 games left in March and in half of them they’re clear underdogs. Next game is Saturday at 2 p.m. in Oklahoma City. The Thunder are 7-11 at home and the Knicks’ two games after OKC are against Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Bring home the bacon, Knicks.