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Bucks 110, Knicks 105: Scenes from Jalen Brunson carrying dead weight almost to victory

In losing the inaugural in-season tournament game, New York managed to shoot even worse than their league-worst average.

NBA: New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

If you close your eyes and listen close, you can still hear the Knicks’ rim ringing like some demonic tuning fork. If not for season-high scoring by Jalen Brunson (45 points)—and a 36-22 rebounding differential—tonight’s game would have been a blow-out. Jalen kept it close, though, and the Knicks only lost 110-105.

Tonight, the New York Knicks (2-4) traveled to the Fiserv Forum to take on the Milwaukee Bucks (3-2), a fellow East Group B team. The game had double-value: it counted as a regular season contest, and also as the first In-Season Tournament tilt. You’ve heard all about it and seen the funky court designs. If you weren’t excited before the game, these Knicks didn’t give you any reason to change your mind.

Coming into the game, concerns about the Knicks were numerous. Over his first five contests, Julius Randle had shot 21-of-76 from the field, or 28%. In fact, the team brought in the league’s worst shooting percentage, 40%. Think that’s bad? Read on.

First Quarter

Jalen Brunson scored the first two points of the game. Besides that, the Knicks began ice cold yet again, missing their next six shots while Milwaukee promptly rattled off 11 points. Julius Randle took two long-range attempts, both clanging like Will Ferrell’s cowbell. At last, Quentin Grimes hit a three-pointer at the 8:30 mark for New York’s second field goal to stave the bleeding and ignited a 7-0 Knicks run.

The Knicks played with pace and good defense through the quarter. Finally, Randle hit from distance, dropping a three-pointer and a long-range two. His six Q1 points matched his previous game’s total.

Once again, Mitchell Robinson was a pogostick in traffic, leaping two, three, sometimes four times amongst the Bucks’ big frontcourt, fighting for rebounds and getting most of them. Mitch took a hammering tonight, with Bobby Portis being especially hacky and whacky, but whattayaknow, no whistles.

Here, quick forward passing leads to a quick Grimes bucket:

New York’s defense kept Milwaukee scoreless for three straight minutes as they waded into the deep end of the quarter. That was encouraging. Damian Lillard scored only two points in the first, but threaded the needle nicely for three dimes in the frame. (Spoiler: Dame would finish the game with 30, including 12-of-12 from the charity stripe.)

The Knicks closed the first frame with a 25-21 lead. Offensive rebounds cover up a multitude of shooting sins. New York’s nine first-quarter O-boards made up for 10-of-30 shooting from the field. Their opponent had shot 9-of-20. Hard to believe the Knicks will win if they can’t manage better than 33% from the floor.

Second Quarter

The game got chippy. A Randle forearm inadvertently (?) thwacked Portis across the headband. And on the play before that, Portis intercepted the ball near midcourt and barrelled toward the rim, but Isaiah Hartenstein ran him down and blocked him cleanly at the rim. Love the effort:

Back-up forward MarJon Beauchamp hit back-to-back threes, journeyman Jae Crowder canned three triples, and the Bucks reached their largest lead yet, nine points. Immanuel Quickley made a much-needed three to slow Milwaukee’s momentum, but not for long.

Milwaukee might have started the season with inconsistency, but beware this team when they hit their stride as a cohesive unit. In one sequence alone: the taller Khris Middleton overwhelmed the smaller Josh Hart for a hook shot; Damian Lillard drained a 29-foot triple; and Giannis Antetokounmpo drove into the paint, got fouled, and sank two freebies. Minutes later, Brook Lopez swatted back a Josh Hart layup that would have cut their lead to four, and soon after Lopez hit his third triple of the night to make the lead 10.

The Knicks shot 31% for the first half. They eeked out 21 points in the quarter and entered halftime down 56-46.

The Bucks shot 8-of-11 from deep this quarter; the Knicks, 3-of-11. As Thibs likes to say, three is more than two.

Brunson led all first-half scorers with 16 points and made half of his dozen shot attempts. For the Bucks, Giannis had 10 points on five attempts.

Julius Randle still looks lost out there and, by intermission, he had shot 3-of-14 from the field for 11 points. Anthony FreeMasons said it: “Oh look, Mr. every other year is playing like ass AND pulling the team down like the albatross he is. I hope they move on from Randle soon, man. This is absurd.”

At least Julius and Mitch had grabbed nine boards apiece. Rebounding is what kept this game remotely close. New York out-boarded the Bucks, 34-19, including 14 offensive boards to three. The Knicks couldn’t even make their free throws, converting only 58%.

For the second consecutive game, Josh Hart filled RJ Barrett’s spot in the starting line-up. Hurry back, RJ. Hart is great with the second unit. As a starter, not so much. Through the first half, he had no points on 0-of-4 from the floor. Hurry back, Mr. Maple.

Bright Spot: I just heard Clyde call Giannis, “Antetopoopoo.” The GOAT!

Here’s how the Knicks distributed their shots through the first half:

Third Quarter

Middleton opened the frame with a three, giving Milwaukee a 13-point lead to start the second half. At least Grimes was having his best game of the season. Quentin hit a trey to cut the lead to eight, and then Hart converted a steal for his first two points of the game. Hart was roughed up at the rim, but again, no whistle.

Good quarter for Hart as well as Brunson, who slashed and cashed a layup, then swished a 15-footer. Jalen’s points for the quarter: 14. The Bucks: 26. He’s such a competitor, the Knicks would be counting lotto balls without him. (h/t LegionofBlue14)

The problem is the Bucks. Crowder and Beauchamp subbed in to rest their starting cohorts and hit back-to-back threes. With Brunson as the sole dependable scorer (Randle contributed zero this quarter) and the Bucks bench shooting 50% from downtown so far in the game, Milwaukee’s lead seemed insurmountable, even when Brunson cut it to four on an and-one three point play. The Bucks fought back, and carried an 82-76 lead into the final frame.

Fourth Quarter

Brunson took the game on his shoulders, scoring four straight. But three triples, two by Giannis and one by Lopez, kept the Bucks comfortably ahead. Jalen got a breather with nine minutes to go, and Clyde asked what we all wondered: “Who’s going to pick up the scoring slack with Brunson not in the game?”

Answer: Immanuel Quickley, sort of. For the first five minutes of the quarter, the un-extended-man was the only Knick besides Brunson to score. IQ’s six points cut the deficit to three. The Bucks anwered with four and Quickley disappeared. Brunson checked back in, scored immediately, followed by a triple from Grimes. Quentin would finish the night with 17 points, having shot 5-of-10 from deep.

Giannis missed three free throws to keep the Knicks’ hopes alive with four minutes left, and New York’s defense tightened up. The Bucks scored no field goals for seven straight minutes. Giannis scored 22 points on the evening, but his seven turnovers were gifts that kept New York going.

Finally, finally, finally, Julius Randle woke up and contributed five clutch points, and Jalen cashed his 41st, 42nd, and 43rd points with a triple at the 1:10 mark.

Dame Time kicked in, though, and Lillard scored six straight. Randle missed at the rim, Josh Hart committed a foul, and New York found themseves down by five with 18 seconds left. That’s a wrap.

Your Starters:

  • Jalen Brunson: 45 points, five rebounds, four assists, and one steal on 17-of-30 FG, 2-of-8 3P, 42 minutes
  • Julius Randle: 16 points, 12 boards, five assists, two steals on 5-of-20 FG, 1-of-9 3P, 39 minutes
  • Mitchell Robinson: 0 points and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes
  • Josh Hart: six points, 10 boards, five assists, three steals, one block, no threes, 2-of-9 FG, 35 minutes
  • Quentin Grimes: 17 points, four rebounds, two assists, 6-of-11 FG, 5-of-10 3P, 33 minutes.

Up Next

New York hosts James Harden and the L.A. Clippers on Monday. Maybe they should get some shots up over the weekend. Safe travels, Knickerbockers.

Box Score