When the Knicks readied for the start of Sunday night’s game against the Nets, it was with one clear objective — to get off to a strong start.
Then the game began — and the Knicks fell behind by 14 points in the first quarter.
It again was an uphill battle for them all game long, and while they managed to tie the score in the third quarter, it was too much to ask for them to keep it going even against a shorthanded Nets squad. The Knicks fell, 103-101, at Madison Square Garden, dropping them to 4-13.
There was no Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant to serve as a reminder of what might have been for the Knicks. Neither one even joined the Nets on the bench to watch. Instead, the Knicks were left to consider exactly what they are.
They moaned afterward about the free-throw discrepancy — the Nets attempted 34 to their 16 — but the Knicks could have made up the final two-point margin if they had hit more than nine of those 16 attempts.
They talked about fight and sticking together, but the facts remain. After a 2-8 start to the season had the front-office executives speaking out, the Knicks have gone 2-5 with three straight losses before heading to Toronto for Wednesday night’s game.
Not giving up is as good as it gets right now, and at least on that count, the Knicks achieved something. Marcus Morris, who scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half, hit a three-pointer to close the gap to 96-91. After a shot-clock violation by the Nets, Morris hit another three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:54 left to cut the deficit to two.
“He’s not wavering,” coach David Fizdale said. “That’s the thing I love about him. He’s the main guy bringing us in and constantly picking these guys up, making them understand it’s a long season. He and Wayne Ellington and Taj Gibson, they’re just fantastic veteran leaders. Wayne Ellington went through a year where they started the year 11-30 and finished the season 30-11, down in Miami. So he’s a great person for them to understand, ‘Hey, it may not happen right away for us. But if we stick together and we keep plugging away at our details and challenging each other, we can get over the hump.”
The Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie, who led all scorers with 30 points, drove for a layup, but Ellington answered with the Knicks’ third straight three-pointer, pulling them within one.
The Nets’ Joe Harris got inside and scored for a three-point lead, and this time Frank Ntilikina misfired on an open three-pointer from the corner with 44.6 seconds remaining.
“Great, great look,” said Ntilikina, who shot just 3-for-11. “Great possession. Great pass from Taj. Wide open. Missed it. Now, next shot, I’ve got to go back in the gym and be ready to take that shot the next time.”
The Nets’ Jarrett Allen hit one of two from the line to push the lead to 101-97. Morris, who was 7-for-8 from three-point range, tried to get free from beyond the arc but had to settle for a drive that bounced off the rim with 26 seconds to play. After a turnover, Julius Randle dunked with 11.9 seconds left to bring the Knicks within two, but Harris hit a pair of free throws and the lead was safely back to four. Randle scored inside with four-tenths of a second left for the final margin.
Robinson fouls up. The Knicks trailed 91-87 with 4:54 to play when Mitchell Robinson was whistled for what would have been his sixth foul. The Knicks challenged the call and it was overturned, allowing Robinson to remain in the game. That was short-lived, though, as he backed away on a drive by Dinwiddie that upped the Nets’ lead to six. After a free throw by the Knicks, Robinson was called for his sixth foul just 42 seconds after the challenge. This time the call stood, and he also was called for a technical foul as he exited.