Knicks guard RJ Barrett drives past Hornets guard Terry Rozier...

Knicks guard RJ Barrett drives past Hornets guard Terry Rozier in the first half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks knew it was a possible trap game. A surging home team on a nine-game winning streak against a limping team with a 20-46 record and a three-game losing streak. 

But the Knicks, after leading by 16 points in the first half, fell into the trap with a thud, losing to the Charlotte Hornets at the Garden, 112-105. 

"Our defense wasn't there and our rebounding wasn't there," Knicks coach Tom Thibideau said. "So we didn't give ourselves a chance to win at the end."

The Knicks’ nine-game winning streak is over as they head to Sacramento to begin a four-game West Coast swing.   

The Hornets came into the game at the bottom of the standings, but the ever vigilant Thibodeau pointed out Charlotte was 5-5 in its last 10. 

“I think every game’s a trap game,” Thibodeau said. “But to me it's to understand — and it's human nature, too — you let your guard down just a little bit, you're going to slip. So you can't let your guard down. The league is too good.” 

RJ Barrett led the Knicks (39-28) with 27 points, but he had only two in the fourth quarter. 

“I don't think my [fourth-quarter] shots were horrible,” said Barrett, who missed 11 of his last 12 attempts. “A lot of the shots I took were the same shots that I made before. They just didn't go in.” 

Immanuel Quickley, off his transcendent, 55-minute performance in the Knicks’ 131-129 double overtime victory in Boston on Sunday night, started again in place of Jalen Brunson, who missed his second straight with a sore left foot. Quickley scored 14. 

Julius Randle had 16 points and Mitchell Robinson added 14. Josh Hart, in his first defeat in his 10th game as a Knick, had 10 points. Miles McBride, who had scored one point total in his last eight games, chipped in with seven points. 

"I just think we ran out of gas," Randle said. "That's all."

The Knicks shot 11-for-40 on threes and were outrebounded 42-39. The Knicks had been shooting well and almost always win the battle of the boards. Not on this night. 

The Knicks led by as many as 16 in the first half, but the game was tied at 100 with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter when Gordon Hayward (23 points) hit a basket and a free throw to give Charlotte a 103-100 lead. 

"I knew that our lead wasn't safe," Thibodeau said. "You've got to play for 48 minutes against them."

After the Knicks tied it, Hayward hit another basket to put Charlotte ahead and Kelly Oubre Jr. (27 points) followed with a three-pointer to make it 108-103 with :58.1 left. The Knicks could not recover. 

Terry Rozier added 25 for Charlotte.

The game lacked the intensity of the Knicks’ last two contests, which were thrilling road victories in Miami (Randle game-winning three with 1.1 seconds left) and Boston.

Thibodeau said that Brunson, who is day-to-day, will be on the plane to California in the hopes that he can return during the road trip. 

“[Brunson is] much better today, but not quite ready,” Thibodeau said. “So we'll see where he is tomorrow.” 

Randle, the newly-minted NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week, opened the game with a three-pointer. So it was going to be a cakewalk for the Knicks, right? 

It was not. The Knicks kept hoisting threes, but they only hit two of their next 12 attempts as the first quarter ended in a tie at 21.

The low-scoring quarter benefited the Hornets, not the Knicks, but the home team did have some crowd-pleasing highlights. Barrett and Quickley each drove and fed Robinson for dunks and Isaiah Hartenstein blocked Rozier on a dunk attempt. 

The second quarter was more like it for the Knicks, who hit six of nine three-pointers and outscored the visitors 45-29. Barrett had 13 points in the quarter and Quickley exploded, hitting two threes and converting a conventional three-point play in the final three minutes of the half. 

The half ended spectacularly as Quentin Grimes (12 points) grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast to hit a reverse layup with 0.4 seconds left. That gave the Knicks their biggest lead of the game at 66-50. 

Charlotte owned the third quarter, however, outscoring the Knicks 37-23. The Hornets used an 11-0 run to take their first lead of the night at 87-86 when Nick Richards hit a pair of free throws with :52.6 left. 

But the Knicks took back the lead on a three-pointer by Obi Toppin — his first points of the night. The Knicks went into the fourth with an 89-87 advantage and scored the first six points of the quarter to go up by eight before Charlotte called a timeout. 

The Knicks tried to pull away, but when Hayward hit a three with 5:28 to go to bring the Hornets to within 98-94, Thibodeau called what he hoped was a calming timeout. 

It didn’t work. Oubre hit a three-pointer to make it 98-97. Robinson followed with a follow basket to end the 8-0 Charlotte run and put the Knicks back up by three. 

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