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Scenes from a Christmas miracle at MSG

Knicks 129, Bucks 122: Giannis and Dame score 32 points each but can’t come back against Jalen Brunson and the Knicks in the holiday matinee.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the first game of the NBA’s Christmas Day Line-up, the Milwaukee Bucks (22-8) had won seven in a row, and nine straight against the The New York Knicks (17-12)

In a not-so-happy coincidence, the Knicks hosted the Bucks in a Saturday loss, their third to Milwaukee this season. Today, Madison Square Garden played host again and expectations were low. The starriest Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, scored 32 points apiece, but their team shot poorly on the whole, while the Knicks finally enjoyed a true big three performance. In a turnaround, RJ Barrett showed up strong early on, Jalen Brunson provided his usual leadership, and Julius Randle contributed 24 points (and nine rebounds) to guide the Knicks to a 129-122 victory. Went a little something like this.

First Half

After Saturday’s game, many complained about RJ Barrett’s mostly padded 13-point performance. Today, the Knicks came out determined to get his motor going early. He and Jalen Brunson took most of the first quarter shots and combined for the Knicks first 24 points. In particular, the young Canadian (coulda been a Bowie B-side) gunned with confidence and rampaged the paint. He had 14 points with four minutes to go in the first quarter and applied feisty perimeter defense on Damian Lillard—at least on one possession I recall. It’s Christmas here, so I was a occasionally distracted.

Here is one of his easier baskets:

Dame missed his first five shots before converting a jumper. By the end of the first period, Jalen had collected 15 points, the Bucks shot only 25% from deep, and New York was ahead 36-27—an exact reverse of Saturday’s first quarter score.

Credit goes to the Knicks for not going through the motions in what was predicted to be a loss, and instead playing with great pace, moving the ball crisply, and winning the points in the paint battle 22-10.

New York kept their foot on the gas to start the second frame and went up by 13 points, thanks to buckets from Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley.

Then Julius then hit a rough patch, committing two loose ball fouls, missing two shots, and passing the ball to Khris Middleton (of the Bucks). The team’s hot scoring had cooled off, too; midway through the quarter, New York had scored only nine points and the Bucks were gaining ground. By intermission, however, Jalen’s total had reached 20, RJ’s 18, and Randle had straightened up, recording 12 points and six rebounds. New York had won the half, 62-51.

With 12 points and four dimes, Lillard led a Bucks team that had shot 39.6% from the floor and made only six of 22 three-point attempts. New York wasn’t blowing off any doors, having made 47% from the floor and seven of their 19 longballs, but they had won the paint (32-16), fast-break points (15-7), and rebounds (26-22).

Your halftime shot chart:

Second Half

To start the third quarter, Isaiah Hartenstein converted a three-point play to give the Knicks their biggest lead yet, 14 points, but committed his fourth foul soon after. That ushered in Taj Gibson with less than two minutes gone, and he held down the paint until the 1:45 mark. He has tiger blood.

In the quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 17 points and led the Bucks on a 9-0 run to get within sniffing distance around the midway mark. New York fought back, however, with Brunson continuing to keep the beat. The team kept playing upbeat ball and dominated the paint, which kept their collective head above water. They took a 98-87 advantage into the final frame.

The bench guys got their chance to shine at the start of Q4. Josh Hart, Quickley, and Quentin Grimes combined for 15 points through the first five minutes. The lead ballooned to 16. Milwaukee chipped the differential to six points, but their 32% long-range shooting was killing them, with Bobby Portis and Malik Beasley combining for 0-of-5 and Dame shooting 4-of-13 from downtown. New York had shot equally poorly from deep, but out-scoring their opponent by 24 in the paint made up for it. Plus, we had Herb at the game, and he’s our lucky rabbit’s foot. Shame on us for ever doubting our heroes!

Your Starters:

  • Jalen Brunson: 38 points, six assists, four rebounds, one steal, 15-of-28 FG, 1-of-3 3P, 37 minutes.
  • Donte DiVincenzo: three points, four assists, one rebound, one steal, 1-of-6 FG, 1-of-5 3P, 21 minutes.
  • RJ Barrett: 21 points, six boards, one dime, one steal, 8-of-14 FG, 2-of-5 3P, 27 minutes.
  • Julius Randle: 24 points, nine boards, two assists, one steal, 8-of-17 FG, 2-of-5 3P, 41 minutes.
  • Isaiah Hartenstein: 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one block, 33 minutes.

Up Next

With a proficiency in three-pointers and a stout defense, the Oklahoma City Thunder (18-9) will be a real challenge when the Knicks come to town on Wednesday. Let’s worry about that then. Thanks for the Christmas win today, Knickerbockers—I preferred it to the socks I got, but shhh. Enjoy your family time and safe travels.

Box Score