It was Christmas, and so the Knicks got into the spirit of giving.
They got a home date with the Bucks to open the NBA’s nationally televised all-day showcase and played Milwaukee tough for a half. The Knicks got especially charitable in the third quarter, though, and the Bucks pulled away for an easy 109-95 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,812 at the Garden.
The Knicks trailed by only two points at halftime, but here’s what they gave the Bucks in their most recent third-quarter unraveling: six turnovers that were converted into 10 points and enough space for Milwaukee to shoot 15-for-23. The Bucks outscored the Knicks 36-22 in the quarter for an 84-68 lead and never led by fewer than 13 points after that.
Asked about his team’s penchant for playing poorly in the third quarter, coach David Fizdale said, “I don’t know. We have good halftime talks, we warm up and I don’t know what it is. We turned the ball over a lot in that quarter, which ends up putting so much pressure on our defense [and] we’re not good enough to do that.”
“It’s third-quarter woes all over again,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We have to find a way to control that quarter and I’m pretty sure we’re going to find ourselves in a lot of ballgames and win.”
It was the fifth straight loss and 10th in 11 games for the Knicks (9-26), who have the third-worst record in the NBA — a half-game better than the Cavaliers and Suns (both 8-26).
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and four steals for the Bucks (23-10). Eleven of his points came in the third quarter. Brook Lopez added 20 and Malcolm Brogdon added 17.
Kevin Knox led the Knicks with 21 points, his third straight game over 20. Noah Vonleh had 14 points, 15 rebounds and an impressive block on Antetokounmpo. Hardaway added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite Antetokounmpo’s big game, Fizdale was pleased with the way Vonleh defended against him. “Man, did he battle,’’ he said. “I was extremely happy with his effort. He’s going up against an MVP candidate for sure. It’s one of the toughest covers in the league. Giannis plays like a guard and Noah his whole life has been a power forward/center. For him to be able to compete that way against Giannis, I am very happy.’’
The Bucks and Antetokounmpo got a measure of revenge for their two-point overtime loss to the Knicks at the start of the month, though the showdown between the Greek superstar and the Knicks’ Mario Hezonja never transpired.
Hezonja dunked on Antetokounmpo in the Knicks’ Dec. 1 win, stepped over him and raised his arms to the crowd in what was interpreted as an act of disrespect. Antetokounmpo vowed a punch to the groin if it happened again, and Enes Kanter suggested that Hezonja “wear a cup or something today” in the locker room before the game. Hezonja, however, never got into the game.
The Knicks played pretty well for 24 minutes; now they have to figure out how to extend that toward the full 48.
“It’s a common thing that we have to change,” Knox said. “Most of our losses, it’s the one quarter. We played them really good in the first half. We were down just two. But that third quarter, something slips for us. It’s got to change.”
The Knicks now face a very difficult six-game trip against the Bucks, Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Warriors. “We’ve got to stay together and find a way to make our lives a lot easier while we’re out there on the floor,” Hardaway said. “Knock down our shots when we’re open, hit the right man when they’re open and defend.”