It’s hard to call a game a must-win for the Knicks when there are 24 games left and they are just two games out of the play-in tournament. But Monday night at Madison Square Garden certainly felt like a must-win.
It was the first of four straight home games surrounding the All-Star break, but with a seven-game trip awaiting them and one shot at a shorthanded, struggling team, the Knicks could not allow this opportunity to slip away.
But with a late-game collapse and a lifeless overtime in which they just could not generate any offense, the Knicks fell to the Thunder, 127-123.
It’s hard to measure losses, but this one, coming on the heels of a collapse in Portland to a lottery-bound team, seemed like a crushing defeat.
The Knicks took an 11-point lead in the third quarter, went ahead by two with 15.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter on Quentin Grimes’ fast-break layup and had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds of overtime, but Immanuel Quickley missed a three-pointer.
"We’re just letting a lot of them go," Julius Randle said. "That’s four of our last five losses were probably very winnable games. But you know, I’m not going to dwell on it. We got Brooklyn on Wednesday before a break and focus on that."
Once again, it was Randle who provided the lift the Knicks needed for much of the night. With a 30-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, his first of the season, he had them staked to a lead through much of the game.
But what will reverberate were ill-timed turnovers — including a pass thrown into the stands by Randle with 30.1 seconds left in OT and the Knicks trailing by four. He had seven turnovers and four of them came after the third quarter.
The Knicks (25-33) have lost 12 of their last 15.
The Thunder (18-39), losers of five straight games and 17 of their last 21, were without their two leading scorers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort. But they still managed to steal the game from the Knicks behind the play of 19-year-old rookie Josh Giddey. In his Madison Square Garden debut, the Australian guard had 28 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds, his third triple-double of the season. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record two straight triple-doubles.
The Thunder left the door open when Alec Burks hit a three to close the Knicks’ deficit to 126-123 with 9.6 seconds left in overtime. Ty Jerome was fouled but missed a pair and the Knicks had the ball and a chance to tie. Quickley was inserted and got a good three-point look from the left corner but misfired.
With Evan Fournier (29 points), Grimes and Burks seeming like more reasonable options than the cold-shooting Quickley, the Knicks set a pick along the baseline, opening him up in the corner. With his 0-for-5 outing from outside the arc, Quickley is 4-for-29 in the last eight games.
"To be honest, I thought our defense was the issue," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We scored 123 points. We couldn’t get any stops. The ball was in the paint the whole night. That’s a problem. Again, offensively, if you’re scoring that many points, you should come out with a win. We’ve got to fix our defense."
With the Knicks ahead 110-106, Giddey and Tre Mann (30 points) each hit two free throws to tie the score.
With the Thunder close to a five-second violation as they tried to inbound with 20.4 seconds left, Fournier stole Giddey’s pass and floated a pass ahead to Grimes (19 points), who went straight to the rim and put in a layup under Darius Bazley with 15.2 seconds remaining to give the Knicks a 112-110 lead.
Bazley (23 points) then spun by Mitchell Robinson along the baseline and put in a reverse layup with 5.5 seconds left to tie the score. Randle missed a stepback jumper with one second left to send it to overtime.
Notes & quotes: Randle is averaging 29.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists in his last six games. Fournier is averaging 20.0 points in his last nine games . . . . In four of their last five losses, the Knicks have blown a 21-point second-quarter lead over the Lakers, a 12-point third-quarter lead over the Jazz, a 23-point third-quarter lead over the Trail Blazers and an 11-point third-quarter lead over the Thunder.