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Suns 116, Knicks 113: “Damn that was close”

Tight coverage, swished rock, moving on.

69th NBA All-Star Game Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

“I knew they were gonna double,” Devin Booker said after the game. “They were doing it most of the game.”

And that certainly was the story of Sunday’s matchup between the Knicks (9-7) and the Suns (11-6), one in which the visitors didn’t have—nor needed—Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal suiting up to face New York inside MSG.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, knowing the missing pieces on the Suns' squad (also without renowned marksman Grayson Allen yesterday), came up with the simplest of plans: blitz Booker, deny him the ball, and make the rest of Phoenix beat you.

Fantastic three-step plan on paper, wasn’t it?

As Jaybugkit said in the Game Thread’s comments section, “Damn that was close.”

Close, yes, but no cigar.

Booker hit the dagger by channeling his inner Kobe, of course, but it’s not that the rest of his teammates, known and unknown, didn’t bury the Knicks all game long.

Eric Gordon decided to have his breakout game at MSG on Sunday, leading all Suns bar Booker with 25 points in 33 minutes. EG nailed 9-of-13 shots in the most efficient game he could have dreamed of, then cooked in New York’s kitchen. He bagged six 3-point shots. Only Nassir Little hoisted as many long-range attempts as Gordon scored.

New York was led by (who else?) Jalen Brunson in another monster effort that fell just inches short of becoming another miracle and turning the final 116-113 loss into a game sent to be decided in OT. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Brunson scored an unconscious 35 points on 25 shots (15 made) from the floor, 50% from three hosting 10 beyond the arc.

Julius Randle was great. He avoided turning the ball over (still had two) while doing a bit of everything with five boards, a couple of dimes, and 28 points on the day. The problem, of course, is that while Randle had an extraordinary third quarter (17 points in that frame alone), he could have done much more before all folks went to the locker room at the end of the first half.

Immanuel Quickley (18) scored 15+ points for the third game in a row, but other than that he didn’t contribute much more with only two rebounds, and one apiece in the dimes/blocks/steals cats. Not that we can complain, because this dude is an always-heated, walking-bucket microwave every time he comes off the bench.

“Fading out of bounds, 3-pointer over two people. You got to tap him on the butt and say, ‘Great shot,’ and he made a great shot,” Randle said after the game. “Ain’t really much you can do about it.”

“Got the ball out of his hands. He chased it and got it back,” Thibodeau said describing the game-winning shot. ”It was challenged pretty good.”

“Tough shot, credit to him,” Thibodeau said, “but we played with fire the whole game.”

And that’s the key.

New York lost the war on the glass, getting outrebounded 47-38 overall with Phoenix also getting more offensive boards, 18-13.

The Suns scored 20 points off Knicks turnovers to New York’s 14 the other way around.

Kudos to our superheroes for scoring 12 fast-break points, hitting more buckets in the paint, committing fewer fouls, and (nearly) coming back from 15 points, and having the affair tied at 113 with just 21.2 seconds left to play.

Brunson knew: “They beat us to the punch. For us, on our team, that can’t happen, so we gotta be better.”

Hart, too: “They just played harder. They rebounded the ball, obviously defensive rebounds. But they had 18–20 offensive rebounds today. They were quicker to the ball. That’s something that we can’t have. That’s something that’s easily fixable. But we’ve got to give them credit. They worked and they out-hustled us.”

Said Thibs: “The way we came out really hurt us. They beat us to the ball and that’s usually a strength. We got in a hole, used a lot of energy to come back, and couldn’t finish it in the end.

“[We were] low-energy. So our initial defense was okay, and then the second and third efforts were not there. [We] let them pass the ball out of the double team easily. And then [we were] slow, a step behind. You can’t give people confidence. And then after a guy hits one, he shouldn’t get a second, third, and fourth one.”

Better times must be ahead with games against Charlotte, Detroit, and Toronto to wrap the week up, all of those three squads currently boasting sub-.500 records.

Must-win matchup against the Hornets on Tuesday if the Knicks want to advance in the In-Season Tournament, whether as the leaders of their group or via the wild card/point difference. Tip-off at 7:30 ET. Don’t miss it.