The New York Knicks dropped their first game of the 2023 calendar year to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, losing 111-107 at MSG on Monday. It’s the first loss in five games for the Knicks (22-19) and the second win in a row for the Bucks (26-14), who moved up to the third seed in the East.
Barring a victory next Wednesday, the Knicks would have strung at least two wins or two losses without alternating them individually since they last did way back on Nov. 29 when they sandwiched a W between two losses.
Talk about a streaking team.
Even in a game in which Giannis Antetokounmpo was kinda limited to only 22 points and 10 boards, New York allowed Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday to handle the Knickerbocker players like they were little toddlers.
“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Julius Randle said. A Randle who, bringing back some murky memories from years past, finished the game shooting 8.3% (yes, you read that right, he scored 1-of-12 attempts) from beyond the arc but who was still able to fill his stat line with 25 points, 16 boards, five dimes, and a couple of steals.
The Bucks found themselves down 17 midway through the third quarter. A monster run after that helped them enter the final period down five, and after just 2:29 they were already leading with 9:31 minutes left in regulation. The lead changed hands a few times from that point on but never again after Holiday's long-range shot from 25 feet found nylon with the clock reading 2:23.
Jalen Brunson, aptly, scored the final two points for the Knicks. Brunson finished with a career-high 44 points on 39 minutes and 30 FGA. He was perfect (10-for-10) from the charity stripe. He also pulled down seven rebounds and assisted four buckets.
“You saw a championship team just grind us down,” Brunson said. “Obviously they have one of the best players to play this game in Giannis and Jrue just being clutch as he is, they just wouldn’t go away. You’ve got to give them credit. They used their experience against us.”
Not once in his four-plus-year career had Brunson reached 40 points (38 against San Antonio less than a week ago) on a single night. He topped at 31 (four times) while playing hoops at Villanova. I haven’t bothered checking his high-school game logs, but odds are he never reached that 44-mark, either. The Knicks, of course, found a way to trash the excellence of JB’s career day.
“We didn’t close out and we gave them life,” said Randle. “A team like that with championship experience, you don’t want to do that. A learning experience for us, for sure. Coach always says play tough with the lead and learning experience and we’ll do better.”
New York found a way to trash a 95.5% win probability with 4:45 left in the third. Brunson had a WPA (Win Probability Added) of +40.2% and teammate Isaiah Hartenstein logged the lowest figure at a putrid minus-7.3%.
“Take on the challenge, play as hard as you can,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But we fell short in the end.”
Hartenstein, of course, was the man picked by Thibodeau to stay active in the rotation with Obi Toppin returning to action and Jericho Sims earning the DNP-CD. The recently-signed Hartenstein logged 10 minutes and finished with zero points (0-of-6) and four rebounds. Toppin played eight minutes scoring three points and stealing one possession in his return to the hardwood.
“We’re always gonna prioritize the team, but Obi can add a lot to our team,” Thibodeau said. “So, whatever opportunities you get, get in there and play well. I think that if things aren’t going well, you’re more likely to change, but you also don’t want to disrupt the group, not at the expense of one individual. I think you want to incorporate him and get him acclimated again, but not at the expense of the group.”
Immanuel Quickley started once more with RJ Barrett “real close” to returning but not quite there yet. IQ dumped 23 points on the Bucks on a rather efficient shooting night (9-of-14 from the field, 2-of-3 from the line) adding four rebounds to his contribution. The guard was pleased to have Obi back.
“Great to see my man back on the floor,” Quickley said. “Glad he’s healthy. Always want to see your teammates but also your friends out there, so it was great to see him on the floor.”
That’s probably the brightest note on a tenebrous night for the New York faithful.
Randle started the game missing 0-of-8 field goals, including six 3-point shots, and the Knicks fell 10-2 just to start the game. Jrue got into early foul trouble and that boosted New York’s chances at getting a fifth win in a row, only they ended up throwing it away as is the Knicks wont.
A day after saying he was “really becoming something“ and calling himself “a dangerous man,” Mitchell Robinson finished the game against the Bucks scoring a meager two points and grabbing an even more damaging eight rebounds.
“Once I get to the spot and I’m playing there, it’s going to be hard to move me,” Robinson said. “You might as well try to pick me up and just move me out of the way. If I’m on the ground, you’re done. You’re done. You got to do what you got to do. I’m 270. Ain’t lightweight.”
Pat Connaughton, he of the 209 lbs, pulled down 11 boards on Monday. Giannis grabbed 10, four of them offensive. Same figure for Brook Lopez on the offensive glass, with three more on defense.
“I saw a championship team just kind of grind us down, chipping away,” Jalen Brunson said. “We didn’t hold up enough resistance to get that lead. Got to give them credit. We’ve got to be better, but you’ve got to give them credit as well.”
Evan Fournier and Miles McBride joined Toppin as the lone scorers from the pine (each of the three reserves scoring three points) with none of the two guards getting 15 and 14 minutes respectively.
The Bucks and the Knicks won’t meet again this season with Milwaukee having swept New York clean 3-0 in their particular series.
New York (no. 7 seed) will host the Indiana Pacers (23-18, no. 6) at MSG on Wednesday. Brunson won’t hit 44 again, so the whole bunch better level up. Key game for the postseason aspirations of the Knickerbockers, mostly when it comes to avoiding the play-in by finishing inside the top-6 teams.