MILWAUKEE — The Knicks had scratched and clawed their way back into the game, overcoming a 19-point deficit and pulling even in the final minutes against the Bucks. They just needed to find a way to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Even at full strength, it would have been a challenge for the Knicks and their first-year coach, David Fizdale, to come up with a plan to slow down the Bucks and rising star Antetokounmpo. But their highly regarded rookie, Kevin Knox, was back in New York, trying to heal a sprained left ankle, and Kristaps Porzingis, their version of the unicorn that Antetokounmpo has become at 23 years old, might miss the entire season as he rehabs his ACL tear.
So with a no-name group, the Knicks fought and — as you might expect — fell short, dropping a 124-113 decision to the Bucks at Fiserv Forum.
“There were times it was three or four guys on him,” Fizdale said after the Knicks’ third straight loss. “He’s just a big-time star in this league and he’s just getting better and better. How old is he? 23? So goodness. I mean, I’ve got to look at that for another 10 to 12, however many years.”
Just as they did against Boston, the Knicks scrapped and fought back Monday night. And just as they did against Boston, they came up short, unable to find anyone nearly good enough to counter Antetokounmpo, who had 31 points and 15 rebounds.
Trailing by 19 points at halftime, they cut the gap to one by the end of the third quarter by outscoring the Bucks 35-17. And in the fourth, the Knicks actually went ahead by a point.
But every time they delivered a huge shot, Antetokounmpo countered.
“You’ve got to pick your poison with that group,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who led the Knicks with 24 points. “Not only can they shoot the ball but they’ve got guys that can get to the paint whenever they want against any team that they go up against.”
Trey Burke scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter and Mario Hezonja had 13 of his 18 points in the second half to keep the Knicks in the game. But Antetokounmpo had two dunks early in the fourth quarter and then fed Malcolm Brogdon for a corner three-pointer.
Noah Vonleh gave the Knicks a one-point lead on a follow with 9:28 to play, but the Bucks (3-0) came up with a counter to every Knicks push.
With the score tied at 110 after Hardaway’s three-pointer, Brook Lopez converted a three-point play. Kris Middleton (30 points) and Eric Bledsoe drained three-pointers and the lead was 119-112 with 1:44 left. A dunk by Antetokounmpo, who fouled out Hardaway on the play, was the final nail.
“This is the suffering you must go through to become a good basketball team,” Fizdale said. “The best part of our guys is we find a way to make it a basketball game no matter what mistakes we made. We learn from it. And we’re going to try to get the game in Miami.”