Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots against Knicks guard Quentin Grimes during the...

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shoots against Knicks guard Quentin Grimes during the first half of an NBA game in Los Angeles on Saturday. Credit: AP/Ashley Landis

LOS ANGELES — When Mitchell Robinson was shut down earlier this month in Boston and underwent ankle surgery that will sideline him for months, the Knicks said all the right things. They would make up for his absence around the rim collectively. They have more than enough to get through his absence.

But the bold words have not translated into reality. And the numbers are perhaps more painful than Robinson’s ankle.

Starting with the loss in Boston in which the Knicks gave up 133 points, this team, which was the NBA’s third-ranked defensive team entering that game, has dropped to dead last in defensive rating in that span.

“Two words I can think of is energy and tenacity,” Donte DiVincenzo said. “That’s two things, they go hand-in-hand in my eyes. We have stretches of it. We have stretches of it where we make runs. We look really good. I think we’re playing damn good basketball on the offensive end.

“But that defensive end, we have to — it starts with the effort. You can’t do anything scheme-wise unless you have effort, and I think that’s what we need to step up as players. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and you have to go out there and compete. And I think that’s first and foremost what we need to do a little bit harder and better.”

“I feel like we’re getting to the point where the urgency for defense has to get higher,” Isaiah Hartenstein said. “I feel like we’re doing a great job on offense. We’re pushing the ball. We’re making the unselfish passes. We still have some instances where we force some stuff and the turnovers come about, but I feel like the urgency for defense has to be in the forefront right now.”

Hartenstein has taken most of the minutes at center, although he has remained with the second unit as coach Tom Thibodeau inserted little-used Jericho Sims into the starting lineup. But on nights like Saturday, when Clippers center Ivica Zubac was just too big and too skilled around the rim, Sims was limited to four minutes in the first half before Hartenstein played the remaining 20.

Even with Robinson, the Knicks surrendered a season-worst 146 points in Milwaukee before he had to leave that game in Boston. And they might have topped that Saturday in their 144-122 loss to the Clippers if the game hadn’t turned so one-sided that Kawhi Leonard, who had 36 points, never played a second in the fourth quarter. The teams emptied their benches with more than six minutes remaining.

The Knicks have allowed an average of 132 points in the last six games. “I think a compilation,” Thibodeau said of reasons for the struggles. “We’ve got to figure out that we have to adjust. And the game was being called tight, and we got frustrated with that. And we can’t let that get us sidetracked.”

That came into play Saturday as Josh Hart was ejected early in the second quarter for comments made to referee CJ Washington. With Robinson already gone, the Knicks hardly could afford to lose Hart.

Thibodeau already had shifted perimeter defensive stopper Quentin Grimes to the second unit — a move that coincided with the start of these defensive issues.

“You know, the thing is we’ve got to scratch out wins,” Thibodeau said. “You look at everything all the time. Right now no one’s playing great defense. We’ve got to fix that as a group.”

Part of the numbers, which probably cause the defensive-minded Thibodeau sleepless nights, can be attributed to the way the game is played now, with the pace sped up and three-point field goals launched with regularity. With the tempo the Knicks are playing at now, there are no more dreams of holding teams under 100 nightly.

“I don’t feel like you’re going to hold anybody to 90 right now,” Hartenstein said. “The way we’re pushing the ball . . . we’re playing a lot faster. That’s no excuse for letting a team get 140.”

So what has to change?

“Like a lot, obviously, for us to be consistent on that end,” Julius Randle said. ”But we’ll take a look at the film and keep looking at it . . . [Without Robinson] it’s a struggle, obviously. We wish we had him out there because he makes up for a lot of the stuff. But we’ve been struggling in that area for a while.”

Knicks defense with Mitchell Robinson in the lineup:

Games     Avg. Points Allowed

21                 102.7

Without Robinson:

Games      Avg. Points Allowed

    4                128.3

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