When Saturday night’s game began, it appeared that the Knicks wanted to make history rather than avoid it. With a lottery-bound roster, they looked like a championship contender, at least for 4 minutes and 52 seconds.
They raced to a 14-3 lead, pumping up the Madison Square Garden crowd. Dennis Smith Jr. lobbed a pass off the backboard for a dunk by DeAndre Jordan. Jordan rebounded a missed shot and dunked.
But history would tell you that this was not going to last. The history the Knicks were bound for was a far more ignominious one.
By the time the first quarter was over, the lead was gone, and by the time the game was over, the Knicks didn’t have enough to keep up with the Raptors in a 104-99 loss.
It was the 16th straight loss for the Knicks, matching the single-season franchise record for the longest losing streak.
“I think as long as our guys keep doing this, what they did tonight, we’re building for where we want to go,” coach David Fizdale said. “We understand what this year is. Whatever happens to us this year will not make us crack or waver. We’re just going to keep chopping and keep going after it. I’ve got really high-character people in that locker room that are rooting for each other and working hard for each other. So I don’t see any of this cracking our spirit.”
The Knicks erased a 13-point third-quarter deficit and actually took the lead, but they have lost 24 of 25 and 29 of 31 on their way to a league-worst 10-45 record. They have not won a game at the Garden since Dec. 1, a stretch of 16 straight losses, and are 4-22 at home.
Said Fizdale, “I know it’s difficult and frustrating to go through a losing season. I don’t discount that at all, especially for our fan base. I don’t want to cheat them. I don’t want them to feel like they’re not getting their money’s worth. But most nights, our kids come out and give them the effort and the competitiveness that the fans want to see. I think the fans understand what we’re doing with our guys. They’re seeing big-time growth from all of these guys. For Kevin Knox to have 20 points in a game with Kawhi Leonard draped on him all night, that’s huge. For him to be going to that game and playing in that rookie game, all of these things as we go through the year and see these guys getting a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better, I think the fans appreciate that.
“From the beginning, we really tried to be straight up with our fans and be brutally honest about how difficult this year was going to be. At the same time, we’re going to put a bunch of kids out there that’s going to fight.’’
The arena was filled with loud pockets of Toronto fans chanting “Let’s go Raptors” much of the night, and while Leonard didn’t arrive with the drama of some of his fellow free-agent prospects, the Raptors (41-16) might have the second-best all-around player in the NBA on rental.
Kyle Lowry had 22 points to lead six Raptors in double figures. Serge Ibaka had 15 points and 13 rebounds and Danny Green and Norman Powell added 14 points each. Green hit a pair of three-point field goals late in the fourth quarter to help keep the game out of reach.
After a career-high 31-point performance Friday, Smith struggled to a 13-point night in which he shot 4-for-17. In addition to Knox’s 20 points, Mitchell Robinson had 15 and Kadeem Allen scored all of his career-high 14 points in the second half. Jordan had 10 points and 18 rebounds.
“He’s a tough little runt, boy,” Fizdale said of Allen. “I love him. I really do. He fits my personality. He’s a grimy kid. He’s really worked his way to where he’s at. He keeps getting better and better. I think just overall, our G League and coaching staff has just done an excellent job of bringing him along and improving his game in increments.”
The perpetually optimistic Fizdale strained to recall if he’d ever been a part of something like this. In his first season as an assistant coach in Atlanta, when the Hawks went 13-69 in 2004-05, the worst losing streak was 14 games.
“I don’t remember the streaks,” he said. “I remember losing, and it’s misery. I try not to get too caught up in that, what a streak is, what record you’re breaking from a negative standpoint. It’s much more for me about guys in the locker room and constantly getting them better, getting connected, pumping confidence into them.”