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Tom Thibodeau after loss to Hawks: “There was no defensive urgency or mindset from the start”

Great offense! Horrid defense!

NBA: New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I’m starting to think this team only knows to operate in streaks, whether those are winning or losing ones.

We suspected it was not entirely about Madison Square Garden, and our own Professor Miranda confirmed the Garden is and was never Eden. After Friday’s 124-139 loss to the Atlanta Hawks (24-22), the Knicks players did too after dropping their third game in a row, this one on the road. Perhaps they just can’t win games, no matter where they’re played, full stop.

In a wild matchup that had a bit of everything, New York found itself down as many as 13 points after allowing Atlanta to go on a monster 19-3 run to start the second half. Of course, this being the Knicks, they somehow came back from that hole to take the lead with 1:22 remaining in the third.

Julius Randle didn’t get a single bucket in the final quarter, though, on his way to finishing the game with the most points among all players involved after notching 32.

“It was just too easy,” said Randle. Don’t get it wrong, though, as he was referring to the smooth scoring of all members of the Hawks.

Dejounte Murray dumped 29 points on the Knicks and Trae Young hit 27. DeAndre Hunter contributed 20. Marginalized John Collins dropped 17 and both Onyeka Okongwu and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 14 points each.

On the Knickerbockers’ side the five starters—including Jericho Sims in relief of three-weeks-out Mitchell Robinson—scored 10+ but only Immanuel Quickley (11) hit double-digit figures among those playing off the pine while RJ Barrett (23) was the only New York Knick not named Julius scoring more than 19.

“There were definitely some that we could’ve made it more difficult for them, but they made a lot of shots tonight,” said Barrett after the game. “This is two games in a row where we let a team hit everything out of the gate and they have confidence for the rest of the game.”

Barrett showed some confidence in the squad, saying that the Knicks “played very well offensively” even though he went on to get an extraordinary minus-20 on the game with Brunson logging minus-19.

“We don’t have to change [with Robinson being out],” coach Tom Thibodeau said before tipoff.

Everybody felt Robinson’s absence on Friday, though, with Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein playing 45 minutes between them and finishing with a combined 14-point, 14-rebound stat line.

“Jericho and Isaiah have been in the rotation and that was one of the things that stood out when we were acquiring those guys was the rim protection. We felt both were capable. That’s an important part of today’s NBA,” added Thibs.

The Knicks were slightly outrebounded 39-34 but they only caught nine offensive rebounds to the Hawks’ 14. Through Friday’s games, Robinson had grabbed 9+ offensive rebounds all by himself in two separate games. Only Steven Adams (four times) has more such outings than Robinson in the 2022-23 season.

“The rebounding was a problem right from the start. That was a concern,” Thibodeau said. “Mitch is part of it, but we’ve been a good rebounding team all year. Right now we’re not playing great defense, so we have to get back to that, added Thibodeau.

The coach kept on going, calling out his players after stating that “rebounding is not a one-man proposition, it’s a team effort,” and that the team “needs everyone rebounding.” Thibodeau wrapped it all up by saying that “when [everyone goes for rebounds] we’re a good rebounding team, (but) when we rely on one or two people we’re not.”

Sims went for a perfect 6-for-6 from the field but couldn’t crack double-digit boards (eight) nor swat a single shot. Hartenstain scored two points and pulled down six rebounds with no blocks. Brunson, of all men, got the Knicks’ three swats on Friday while adding nine dimes and a couple of steals to that tally.

“[Robinson] is a big part of what we do. It’s a next-man-up mentality and we have to cover those bases. We have to be able to play a lot harder and do things to the best of our abilities and stick together and make up for it until he gets back,” said Brunson addressing the media after the game.

New York allowed the Hawks to score the second-most points on them this season after Oklahoma City dumped 145 on them back on Nov. 13. Isaiah Hartenstain started that game with Mitchell Robinson out injured. Talk about a coincidence...

As I’m writing this, there have been 24 no-overtime games this season in which a team scored 139+ points. All of those ended in victories for said team, including the Hawks on Friday. There have been 24 in which a team scored 124+ points and lost, and 176 in which said team won. Count the Knicks' last blunder among those pertaining to the former group.

In other words, the offense worked but the defense floundered.

Thibodeau decided to start Sims instead of Hartenstain “to keep some unity to the second unit,” after going “back and forth” in deciding his starter.

“You give up 139, so credit to them. They’re playing great basketball right now, but we’re not gonna be able to win a game like that,” Thibodeau said. “I liked our offense, but there was no defensive urgency or mindset from the start of the game.“

Thibodeau kept going. “Defensively, we made it an offensive game and they’re too good to do that. You have to be tied together on defense when you’re playing against them. And I didn’t feel we were.”

Randle seemed to agree with his coach. “We have to be tighter on [the defensive] end,” he said. “We have to be tied in together. Our defense is a team thing. When we’re all on a string and playing for each other, we’re good.”

In other news, Ryan Arcidiacono and Svi Mykhailiuk each got one minute of playing time and logged club-trillion stat lines. It’s the second time Arcidiacono pulls the feat off this season and Mykhailiuk’s third this year.

Cam Reddish, Derrick Rose, and Evan Fournier ate another DNP-CD with the trade deadline (Feb. 9) less than three weeks away.

Your Knicks (25-22) fly north of the border to meet the Raptors in Toronto on Sunday. New York is in possession of the no. 7 seed in the East tied with Miami and 0.5 games above Atlanta in the standings.