As the season has descended into another march to the bottom of the standings the Knicks have clung to the notion that at least they were getting better, even if it wasn’t showing up in the standings.
The Milwaukee Bucks squashed that belief almost from the opening tip Monday, putting on display the vast difference between the best team in the Eastern Conference and the worst, piling on the Knicks from the opening minute and never letting up as they pummeled them, 132-88 at Fiserv Forum.
There was no early lead to talk about or a late run to admire. This was a lifeless effort and when the fans chanted, “Warm up the bus,” in the third quarter the Knicks could have countered that they’d already loaded up the bus at the opening tip.
“Whatever word you want to use for it, lack of tenacity, intensity, focus, competitiveness,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said after the carnage was over. “I don’t feel like we came into this game believing we could win this game and that was what was most disappointing. I felt like going into every other game we felt like we could come out, compete, and beat anybody. Tonight, we didn’t come out with the idea that we could beat this team.
“I don’t know why. But it was definitely there. We didn’t come out with the right mindset for whatever reason, whatever my motivational talk was didn’t take hold I guess. We’ll bounce back. We’ll get into the film. We’ll own it. we’ll watch it and we’ll get ready for another very good basketball team.”
The Knicks have now lost seven straight games and tumbled to 4-17 on the season, but none of the losses were quite like this one. The Knicks trailed by as many as 47 points and while you could point to the presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, arguably the best player in the game, and his 29 points and 15 rebounds in just under 22 minutes, it was even Thanasis Antetokounmpo, his brother who was once a Knicks draft pick, helping pour it on to the final buzzer.
The Knicks, playing without Marcus Morris (cervical spasms) and Frank Ntilikina (strained upper back), were never in the game. Unlike the close losses to Philadelphia and Boston in recent days and even the one-sided loss in Toronto where they at least held a double-digit lead early, they were humbled in every aspect of the game. The Bucks have now won 12 straight games and the Knicks haven’t won two straight this season.
Barrett was 0-for-9 shooting, scoring just two points, Monday and he wasn’t alone. Dennis Smith was 1-for-7 for four points. Kevin Knox was 1-for-9 with five points. As a team the Knicks shot 30.8 percent — and that was a step up from the 16.7 percent they shot in the first quarter, setting a tone that would not change.
“It’s frustrating because I felt like we took a step forward last game and then I don’t think personally, I don’t feel like we came in here with the idea that we could beat this team from the beginning,” Fizdale said. “That was what was most disappointing. They got whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. We never took a real stand.”
“I felt that, too,” Smith said. “And that was an issue. It was addressed in the huddle. I agree with him 100 percent. I felt like guys came out and were saying, ‘Ah, these are the Bucks,’ almost like — you always respect your opponent but we gave them too much respect coming out. Not being in attack mode and not believing in ourselves.”
The game presented a curious pairing of coaches. Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer interviewed for the Knicks job that went to Fizdale and the two longtime friends are in vastly different situations now. Fizdale has been on a hot seat in New York. While last season was seen as a tanking season in New York, this time around the organization hoped to make a step forward by signing seven veteran free agents in the summer. But even that, paired with No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett, has not made a difference. But Fizdale insists that the two held no animosity or anxiety in competing for the same jobs last year.
“That’s my man,” Fizdale said. “Superstars Camp in Santa Barbara, me and Bud were two camp counselors. I think I was just graduating from high school and Bud was in his first year in college. We go way back. It’s pretty cool now to see us doing our thing. I’m really happy for him the situation that he’s in.”