The Knicks have lived by the three-point field goal in the early going. And if you live by it, there are going to be some nights when you will die by it. That happened Sunday, three games into the season, when the Knicks went cold. They looked lethargic and drained after starting the season with an exhausting double-overtime win over Boston and a blowout win in Orlando.
They might have been able to survive the missed shots, even when they came as often as they did. But what they couldn’t survive and what they couldn’t stomach was that the Magic — who had trailed the Knicks by 34 points two nights earlier — outworked them.
With a chip on their shoulder and a red-hot fourth quarter from Terrance Ross, the Magic knocked the Knicks from the ranks of the unbeaten, 110-104, at Madison Square Garden.
The shooting that had carried the Knicks in the first two games disappeared. After starting 9-for-17 from beyond the arc, they were 4-for-31 the rest of the way, finishing 13-for-48 from three-point range after setting a franchise record for made threes with 24 on Friday. And as coach Tom Thibodeau shuffled players in and out, searching for a hot hand, only cold hands surfaced.
For all of their issues, the Knicks built a 13-point lead in the first half and led by six entering the fourth quarter. But unable to find the range — they shot 2-for-16 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter — the Knicks also saw their signature style of hustle turned on them. It was the Magic who came alive, scoring 36 points in the quarter to erase an 80-74 deficit.
"They had 36 in the fourth?" Julius Randle said. "There you go. Nights that we don’t shoot the ball particularly well, we definitely can rely on our defense. In the fourth quarter, intensity should go up. There’s no excuse for 36 points in the fourth quarter. I feel like that’s where we lost the game. We didn’t play with energy the whole game. But definitely in the fourth we can rely on our defense to get stops and get out on the court and run, and we didn’t do that.
"They got every loose ball, [missed] coverages. You guys can see it: When we’re out there, when we’re playing with energy, we’re flying around and we’re getting stops and deflections, blocking shots, getting up the court, moving the ball, playing with pace. It was just not there tonight."
Randle had 30 points and 16 rebounds but shot just 8-for-24, including 2-for-10 from three-point range. Derrick Rose scored 23 points off the bench and shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, but he had little help. Evan Fournier, who had averaged 25.0 points in the first two games, had eight.
"Where do you want to begin?" Thibodeau said. "It’s a compilation of things. We created a problem long before that, just understanding what goes into winning, We knew they would play with intensity and we didn’t. We have to have a great urgency. We have to play with great intensity.
"In this league, players are too good. You allow someone to beat you to loose balls, make hustle plays. We had a 13-point lead, blew that, blew another lead in the third quarter, so you’re playing with fire.
"The fourth quarter is a different intensity level from the other three. From ball pressure to challenging shots, sinking [into the paint], moving on the flight of the ball, multiple efforts. When you take shortcuts, the results are never going to be good."
New York native Cole Anthony, son of former Knicks guard Greg Anthony, led the Magic with 29 points — 23 in the first half — and added 16 rebounds and eight assists. Ross finished with 22 points, all in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks still led 80-79 early in the fourth quarter, but Alec Burks misfired from three-point range in one corner, and when the Knicks grabbed the rebound and fed Obi Toppin in the other corner, he fired an air ball.
The Magic followed that with a 10-2 run, and two free throws by Anthony with 35.3 seconds gave Orlando a 106-96 lead.
"I can live with missed shots," Thibodeau said. "It’s our defense and rebounding and playing tough with a lead. You can’t let your guard down. When you have a lead, you have to play with toughness. That’s important. Usually this team does."