The Knicks-Bucks game already was a battle of shorthanded teams, with the Knicks playing without Julius Randle (contused right thigh) and Reggie Bullock (sprained left ankle) while the Bucks were missing seven players, including four starters, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Then the Knicks lost Mitchell Robinson in the first quarter with a fractured right foot. But with RJ Barrett contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and a season-high seven assists, the Knicks managed to hold off the assortment of Bucks reserves, 102-96, on Saturday night in Milwaukee.
The Bucks sent out another Antetokounmpo — older brother Thanasis — and he had a career-high 23 points along with 10 rebounds. But with Brook Lopez the only starter playing for Milwaukee, the Bucks went to a zone defense and dared the Knicks to try to shoot over them — which they did, shooting 16-for-44 from beyond the arc.
The Knicks built an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Bucks fought back to tie it at 96-96 on Lopez’s dunk with 1:35 left.
But Alec Burks, who stepped into a starting role and contributed 21 points, drained a three-pointer with 1:19 left to give the Knicks the lead for good. He hit a free throw with eight seconds left for a four-point lead, and Barrett added two more free throws to seal it. That lifted the Knicks to 24-22, two games over .500 for the first time since they were 5-3.
"That’s, I think, the challenge of this season, how quickly can you adapt?" coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You go into a game and you’re planning for all possibilities. You want to be ready and then they have a number of guys who are out and you have a number of guys that are out as well. And then you have an injury during the game. And you’re facing a zone for the entire game.
"So it comes down to your ability to rise above whatever challenges you’re facing and find a way to win. It’s hard to win on the road, we knew they wouldn’t change their style of play, and because of the way they shoot the three, you knew there would be an abundance of those threes. We were concerned about Lopez in the post and we had to do all we could to come out with the win. Obviously, very pleased with the win.''