The Knicks have thrived this season by outworking their opponents and maintaining a laser-like focus. But for two seconds Friday night, they lost it, and it proved costly.
After leading by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, the Knicks were ahead by two when Julius Randle misfired with eight seconds remaining in the period. Devin Booker raced upcourt but missed a driving layup. But the Suns outhustled the Knicks and Tory Craig provided a tying follow to the miss with eight-tenths of a second left.
When RJ Barrett lazily inbounded, Cam Payne swiped it right in front of the rim and dropped in a layup to cap a 9-0 run in the final 61 seconds of the quarter.
Then the Suns produced a 14-5 run in the first 2:47 of the fourth quarter en route to a 128-105 win at Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix.
Derrick Rose’s three-pointer gave the Knicks an 88-81 lead with 1:01 left in the third quarter, but Jae Crowder’s three-pointer with 9:13 left in the fourth period capped a 23-5 run and gave the Suns a 104-93 lead. The Knicks wound up being outscored 47-17 in the final 13 minutes.
The only drama left down the stretch was how the Knicks would respond as Chris Paul got under their skin. Taj Gibson, with the game fading, threw a flying elbow at Paul as the Suns’ point guard dribbled upcourt, drawing a flagrant foul. As the game continued to get out of reach, Randle and Paul jawed at each other. Randle then was assessed a technical with 2:55 left when he ran over Crowder.
"It was just a physical game," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You know, guys get tangled up. It’s part of the game."
The Suns ended the Knicks’ winning streak at nine games on April 26 at Madison Square Garden, and this game had a similar feel. In that one, the Knicks had a 15-point lead in the third quarter and were beaten by eight.
"End of the third gave us a bit of momentum, and then some things happened on the floor that got Chris going," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "A lot of players can’t play in that environment. Chris thrives on it.
"I can’t speak to the stuff that happened on the floor. I wouldn’t say Chris ignited it. I would just say he’s a competitor."
When it was over, Knicks president Leon Rose and executive VP William Wesley embraced Paul. Gibson came over and talked with him, too.
"It’s all good," Paul said. "Some things were said, heat of the game. Me and Taj talked after the game. It’s all love."
The Knicks dropped to 2-2 on their western swing with two games left against the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles.
Randle had 24 points and 11 rebounds, Barrett added 23 points and Rose had 17 points and six assists for the Knicks (37-30).
Deandre Ayton had 26 points and 15 rebounds and Crowder added 18 points to lead seven players in double figures for the Suns (48-19). Paul had 17 points and 11 assists.
The Knicks fell behind 21-8 but recovered to lead 63-56 at halftime behind 17 points from Randle and 14 from Rose.
The Knicks squandered a chance to pick up ground in their efforts to secure their playoff positioning. After Boston’s loss to Chicago earlier in the night, the Knicks’ magic number to clinch a top-six spot — thereby avoiding the play-in tournament — was reduced to three. But the loss dropped the Knicks to a half-game in front of Atlanta for the fourth seed.
Notes & quotes: The Knicks were without Immanuel Quickley, who suffered a right ankle injury late in Wednesday’s loss at Denver, and Alec Burks, who suffered a knee contusion in that game.