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Knicks have trouble late and fall to last-place Magic again

Derrick Rose #4 of the Knicks looks on

Derrick Rose #4 of the Knicks looks on after his turnover late during the fourth quarter led to a basket by the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The message had been repeated to the Knicks like a mantra in video sessions and practices, a chant they repeated over and over in the days leading up to this game.

"Don’t underestimate nobody," was the way Mitchell Robinson put it after Tuesday’s practice, readying the Knicks to host the Eastern Conference’s last-place team, the Orlando Magic. And it was an easy lesson to display because the Knicks’ coaching staff could put on the video of the Magic already beating them at Madison Square Garden this season.

But here the Knicks were as the game droned on, appearing disinterested, slow footed and playing down to the level of the Magic for much of the night. And as has been the case on many nights of late, the second unit came on to provide the spark, waking the crowd and pulling the Knicks back into the game. This time it wasn’t enough as the Knicks fell, 104-98.

Jalen Suggs stole Derrick Rose’s pass at midcourt and fired ahead to Wendell Carter Jr. for a dunk that completed a 7-0 run with 29.1 seconds for a 102-96 Magic lead.

A team with just four wins this season picked up their second at the Garden. For the Knicks and the crowd it was another night of soul-searching — and lineup searching.

"You have to play for 48 minutes," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You can’t let your guard down. Unfortunately, we killed ourselves tonight. Turnovers hurt us. Second-chance [points] hurt us. We’re capable of playing a lot better than we did. Give them credit. They played well. They played hard. We didn’t. I have to do a better job getting them ready. That’s on me."

The latest incarnation of the search for energy came in the form of Obi Toppin, Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley joined by starters RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson and in the fourth quarter they provided the fire the team had been lacking. But if it got them back into the game it wasn’t enough to hold on.

"A lot of this stuff is rhythm, trying to find each other out," said Julius Randle, who scored only 13 points and was minus-21 in his 32 minutes. "I think it’s been exactly how the season went. There’s been good days and there’s been not great days. That’s pretty much who we are right now. We’re not a consistent team, a consistent basketball team yet, but we’ll get there."

Before the Knicks took the floor Thibodeau was asked if he had considered changing the starting lineup, a trigger he has a history of being very slow to pull.

He paused for a moment and said, "You know, what you see is what we have. There’s not a big difference between either group and so we’ll see how it unfolds. I’m not opposed to it, but I like the way the second unit is playing. There’s risk in that, too. You change that you may lose the effectiveness of that second unit."

The Knicks missed 16 of their first 19 shots and turned the ball over four times and fell behind by 10 points at 68-58 before finally a late flurry by the bench got them back into the game. Evan Fournier went to the bench, where he would stay for the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game. Quickley hit a three-pointer and Rose followed with another. Rose added another three-pointer and the Knicks trailed 72-67 entering the fourth quarter.

Barrett hit a driving layup to give the Knicks a 96-95 lead with 1:54 left. But Franz Wagner answered, spinning past Quickley and dunking over Barrett, drawing a foul and converting the three-point play with 1:45 left for a 98-96 Magic lead. The Knicks trailed the rest of the way.

New York Sports