Knicks guard Jalen Brunson controls the ball ahead of Atlanta...

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson controls the ball ahead of Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jalen Brunson has been a leader on the court for the Knicks, and like the best of leaders, he already has set a tone of taking the blame for any struggles on his own shoulders.

So when the Knicks dropped their third straight game Wednesday night, squandering a 23-point second-quarter lead in a 112-99 loss to the Hawks, Brunson didn’t talk about needing to watch the film, instead saying that the loss fell on him.

“We just came out a little lackadaisical,” Brunson said. “As a point guard, as a leader, I’ve got to take credit for that. That’s just unacceptable on my part. So we’ve just got to be better.''

Brunson has not played as well lately as he did in the first four games of the season, but he is hardly to blame for the troubles that the Knicks experienced during the three straight losses. They faced three teams — Milwaukee, Cleveland and Atlanta — all expected to be contenders of varying degrees, with more to come in Philadelphia on Friday night. Even  with James Harden sidelined, the 76ers are a challenge..

What was disturbing Wednesday was that Brunson’s words were echoed about the lackadaisical effort. The Knicks were rolling, and whether they took their foot off the gas or not in the belief that the game was over early, the images that followed were a problem. Their lead was down to eight at halftime, and the Knicks still were not ready for what came next. They were outscored 32-10 in the third quarter, and at one point in the fourth, they had been outscored 79-37.

When they fell behind by double-digits, there still were sloppy turnovers, a lack of effort to get back on defense and something that might have raised the ire of coach Tom Thibodeau — an attempted reverse dunk by Obi Toppin that missed and bounced away.

“They played harder in the second half,” RJ Barrett said. “That’s really what I think it came down to. We gave them life in the first half and they came out in the second half, yeah, they did that.”

He added, “They were more aggressive and they played harder in the second half. Even with schemes and all of that, the harder-playing team normally is going to win.”

“The thing is, it’s probably a compilation of things,” Thibodeau said. “Missed some shots, we didn’t protect the basket as well as we should have. We turned it over. Live-ball turnovers, they have a numerical advantage. But we still have to get back. I think we had 17 turnovers, we gave up 26 points. It should never be more than the amount of turnovers you have. So that’s something that, no matter what happens, we’re not going to be perfect, we’re going to make some mistakes, just don’t quit on the play. You make a mistake, you go hustle and get it back. That’s the mentality we want to have.”

Thibodeau talked Sunday about lessons learned in losing to the Bucks and Cavaliers, two teams that have posted a combined 13-1 record. The Knicks may be outmanned on most nights in terms of star power, but when they started out the season 3-1, it was depth and effort that got them there. And it’s those traits that they need to survive.

“Playing at a high level, playing with high energy,” Brunson said when asked what it will take. “We’re not going to be perfect. We’re not going to make every shot. We’re going to make mistakes. But we’ve got to play with a certain level of urgency on both sides of the ball. It’s things that we can control most importantly, so we’ll go back and work on those things and continue to sit together.”

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