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Knicks battle but fall to Celtics after allowing fourth-quarter run

Julius Randle of the Knicks is guarded closely

Julius Randle of the Knicks is guarded closely by Marcus Smart of the Celtics at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Errol Anderson

Ten games into the season, Knicks coach David Fizdale  unofficially was put on notice when the team’s top two executives held a news conference to say how unhappy they were with the team’s start.

On Sunday, the Knicks finished off their next 10-game stretch with the type of disappointing loss that couldn’t have made president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry too happy.

After leading the Boston Celtics for 3 1/2 quarters, the Knicks dropped a 113-104 decision at Madison Square Garden.

The loss was the sixth straight for the Knicks, who allowed the Celtics to take control with a 12-0 run that featured three three-pointers and multiple Knicks turnovers. That turned a 95-92 Knicks lead into a 104-95 Knicks deficit.

  “You can’t turn the ball over against them in those situations,” Fizdale said. “They are too fast, too skilled, too talented. They make you pay. I thought until that point we had played a really solid, competitive basketball game, but we haven’t figured out how to close it out.”

No, they haven’t. Nor have they improved much on the scoreboard. The Knicks (4-16) have the same 2-8 record in this 10-game stretch that caused so much concern in the first 10-game stretch.

 The Knicks, however, believe they have improved during the past 10 games.

“I think we’ve become a better basketball team,” Fizdale said. “I think we got our [butt] whipped in Toronto, and sometimes that’s going to happen to the best of them. It doesn’t matter who you are. But if you look at our games against everyone else, every other game we were competing with a chance to win.”

 The team also feels better than it did 10 games ago.

 “We all feel like we’re knocking on the door,” rookie RJ Barrett said. “Almost every game we’re right there. We just have to get over the hump. We’re definitely a better basketball team and we’re going to get better.”

Barrett had 16 points through three quarters but was held scoreless and shot 0-for-4 in the final period. He was far from the only player to struggle late, as the Knicks shot 5-for-17 in the fourth quarter.

The only player to produce down the stretch was Julius Randle, who scored 10 of his 26 points in the final period.

 Dennis Smith Jr. had a season-high 17 points in 38 minutes and played most of the game after starter Frank Ntilikina exited with a sore upper back after seven minutes of action. Smith shot 6-for-11 overall, was 2-for-3 from three-point range and had seven assists and two blocks.

The Knicks played without their leading scorer, Marcus Morris, who has a neck injury.

Jayson Tatum had 30 points and Jaylen Brown added 28 for  the Celtics (14-5), who are tied with the Heat for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. In his first game back at Madison Square Garden, former Knick Enes Kanter had 11 points and 11 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.

 There was little doubt heading into the game that Fizdale was feeling some heat.  He made what some thought to be a metaphorical comment when asked about the FDNY sweatshirt he has worn to nearly every practice and many pregame media sessions over the past 10 games. Fizdale said he was given the sweatshirt last year when he visited a firehouse where his college friend’s brother worked.

“I think firemen are the epitome of service,” he said. “Any time, while we’re all running away from a burning building, what do they do? They run in. I remind myself while everyone else is going crazy or thinking something’s chaotic or something is wrong, I’ve got to be the person that’s constantly running into it.”

Yes, Fizdale clearly is feeling the heat.

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