Knicks move on from loss, try to remember defense wins games
MIAMI — When Julius Randle put on a historic performance Monday, scoring 57 points at Madison Square Garden, it got the Knicks on all of the highlight shows and prompted deep dives to compare his effort to those of all-time greats.
But it didn’t get them what they wanted most — a win. And as the regular season winds down with only nine games left the lesson that they need to take from it is that they didn’t get through the first 73 games with superstar performances, instead building their way to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with a hard-working team effort on both ends, particularly on defense even as their offense has reached unexpected levels.
In Monday’s 140-134 loss, the Knicks allowed a shorthanded Timberwolves squad to shoot 71.1% from the field — and 10-for-13 from three — in the first half and couldn’t come up with a stop down the stretch when they needed it. After battling back from a 17-point hole to take a five-point lead in the fourth quarter the Knicks could not hang on. And now they head to Miami and Orlando for back-to-back tests.
“We weren’t playing hard enough,” Jalen Brunson said. “They were playing harder than us and it’s something that you never want to tell yourself or think about but that’s the case tonight. You’ve just got to give them credit. They played really well. We’ve just got to be better. I’ve just got to be better.”
While Randle and Brunson have taken turns carrying the offensive load on most nights, it is still the defense that saves them — like Saturday when they allowed just 19 points to Denver in the fourth quarter. On Monday night, it just never got better.
“They had their way,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We got in a big hole, fought to get out of it. And then came up short in the end. But we were playing with fire the whole game . . . It’s hard to win like that.”
“They made a lot of shots,” Mitchell Robinson said. “We just have to close out better. One of their guys [Taurean Prince] went 8-for-8 [from three-point range]. We just got t play better defense. It happens. They’re pros too, just like us. We’re just going to live, learn and continue to work [and look toward] next game.
“Basketball, it happens. We’re worried about just playing Miami. That’s our next step. Today is done, can’t bring it back, can’t rewind it. So just live on and just move on.”
The Knicks may have learned a lesson that might not have seemed necessary earlier this season — that they can’t take any opponent lightly. Their remaining nine games include only three against teams with at least a .500 record, starting with Wednesday at Miami.
“It looked like we were in mud,” Thibodeau said. “A step behind on everything.”
“It’s never as bad as it seems, never as good as beating the best team in the league when you got nobody,” Immanuel Quickley said. “It’s always right in the middle. So, you try to stay even keel through good, bad. You just try to put your head down, work, watch the film and get better each and every day. It’s a process.
“Long season. 82 games, you’re not going to play perfect all 82. We’ve definitely got to be better. No excuse for losing. Definitely should’ve won it. But you’ve always got to move onto the next game.”