The Knicks got a glimpse at the grim reality they would have faced if they gave into fans’ offseason demands of trading Julius Randle in their 102-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The victory improved New York’s record to 24-22.
The Bucks had seven inactive players including superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, All-Star-level players in Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, and key role players in P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis, Donte DiVincenzo, but Randle missing his first game of the season due to a hamstring injury had a comparable impact.
The only regular starter the Bucks had healthy was Brook Lopez, who averages just 11.7 points per game on the season, most among the active Bucks tonight.
The injuries continued to pile up during the game, as Mitchell Robinson had to leave after just three minutes with a fractured foot.
The injury comes at a time that solid centers in Andre Drummond and Gorgui Dieng have hit the buyout market, though Drummond is expected to sign with the Lakers and Dieng has had noted difficulties with head coach Tom Thibodeau in their stint together in Minnesota, citing a “lack of communication” and “disrespect” that left him deeply unhappy.
The absences gave the game a similar feel to a preseason contest or a game right before the playoffs rather than one in the midseason, as numerous young Bucks were given a shot to showcase their talents.
The active Bucks in Saturday’s game averaged a cumulative 39.2 points per game (or just 4.9 points apiece) on the season coming into the contest yet they were not daunted by a nearly healthy Knicks squad with the exception of Randle and Reggie Bullock.
Most notable was Giannis’ brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, a former Knick, who finished with a career-high 23 points to go along with ten rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
The Antetekounmpo brothers were reportedly not happy with how he was treated with the Knicks, where he appeared for just six total minutes in two games despite stellar development league play, and Thanasis certainly showed an intense desire to beat them tonight.
Thanasis’ play kept the Knicks from never getting a large lead, and even when the Knicks started to pull ahead with a fourth-quarter eleven-point lead, the Bucks fought back to make it close down the stretch.
With 2:05 left in the game, Antetokounmpo brought the Bucks to within two off a ridiculous contested 28-foot three-pointer. He shot 4-5 from beyond the arc, which doubled his career total as he was just 2-23 from three in his lifetime going into the game.
With 1:35 remaining in the contest, Antetokounmpo had finished knotting up the contest with a no-look dime to Brook Lopez leading to a slam.
Despite the Bucks punching above their weight with countless timely and contested jumpers, including 14-36 shooting from three point range, it was not enough to beat out the Knicks’ proven and veteran talent despite their below-par play.
With 1:19 remaining, Alec Burks made a wide-open three to put them back on top, and followed it up with a technical free throw to give him 21 points and the Knicks a clinching four-point cushion.
The Knicks’ best performance came from Burks, who had his fifth-straight game with 20+ points, as he also grabbed ten rebounds, dished out five assists, and made six of 12 threes.
RJ Barrett filled in Randle’s role of playmaker and scorer with an as he tied Burks’ game-high 21 points, to go with seven rebounds, and seven assists, albeit on just eight of 22 shooting to go along with five turnovers.
Barrett has been exceedingly productive as a distributor as of late, averaging 4.3 assists per game to just 2.7 turnovers over his last seven.
For the first time in his career, he has dished out five or more assists in each of his last three games.
The veteran Derrick Rose finally returned from a COVID-induced absence, and also had a bit of a mixed bag game, making just six of fifteen field goal attempts, though he was still able to brush off the rust enough to make a positive impact with 13 points, two steals, and a plus seven plus/minus.
Youngster Immanuel Quickley similarly struggled to find his shot, scoring thirteen points on four of fourteen shooting, though he did dish out five assists and make four of his ten three point attempts.
Fellow rookie Obi Toppin finally broke out of a six-game streak of scoring zero points with six points on three of four shooting as he found a rhythm, but he was benched in the second half in favor of Kevin Knox’s shooting prowess as the Bucks were in a zone defense.
Toppin was still less than stellar defensively, as he showed little ability to stop Antetokounmpo.
Kevin Knox had a relatively uneventful but solid 12 minute stretch as he scored five points on one for three shooting from three and the Knicks won his minutes by eight.
It was not as excruciating as the Knicks’ recent blowout loss to the Bucks on March 11, but it was certainly not as exciting as their early season blowout win over them either.
In the chase to get a playoff berth for the first time in eight years with their lone All-Star sidelined, a win is about all you can ask for. As P&T’er Pliny the Welder noted, the win was found money.