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Knicks can't slow down Devin Booker, streaking Suns

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) defends against Phoenix

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (23) defends against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. Credit: Noah K. Murray

It’s one thing for the Knicks to beat the Lakers without LeBron James and apparently quite another to try to go toe to toe with Devin Booker and the streaking Suns.

The Suns had little trouble extending their winning streak to 15 straight games Friday night as Booker scored 32 points to lead them to a 118-97 win at Madison Square Garden.

How bad was it? For the first time this season, coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to wave the white flag, subbing in Kevin Knox and rookies Miles McBride and Jericho Sims a little more than halfway through the fourth quarter.

"We were behind. You are just looking for any type of spark we could get," Thibodeau said. "We were looking for some energy. I didn’t think our energy was like it normally is."

The Knicks (10-9) had been hoping to build upon their win over the Lakers on Tuesday. Phoenix (16-3), however, was just too tall of a task.

The Knicks shot 37.0% and Phoenix 55.7%. Kemba Walker scored 17 points and Immanuel Quickley had 16 off the bench. Julius Randle was held to single digits for the first time this year, scoring nine points and shooting 3-for-8 in 32 minutes.

"They played really smart basketball," Walker said. "They get you moving around. They play together. You can tell those guys really play for one another."

The Knicks committed 16 turnovers that led to 25 Phoenix points.

Now the Knicks have less than 24 hours to recover before they play Trae Young and the Hawks on Saturday in Atlanta.

"You got to keep your edge. That’s the challenge of the league," Thibodeau said of playing a back-to-back against two tough teams. "Every night there could be an excuse. You don’t want to do that. You want to be ready to go. That’s what we have to do.

"Atlanta is a good team. You look at what they did last year. You look at the players you have. And you have to be ready."

Atlanta, of course, is just the next up in a string of challenging opponents. The Knicks follow the Atlanta game with contests at Brooklyn and at home against Chicago.

Phoenix has not lost since Oct. 27 against Sacramento. Though not many of those wins have come against elite teams, the Suns can only play the opponent in front of them. And right now they are playing them all better than anyone else in the NBA, with the exception of Golden State.

"Their shots, they are strong in every area. It’s the layups, it’s the pressure on the rim, it’s the three, it’s the midrange," Thibodeau said before the game. "I think when you have the perimeter skill set they do, they can spread you out. You have to defend every aspect of their offense. It’s transition. It’s pick- and-roll. It’s their playmaking ability. All their guys can put it on the floor and create plays. It does put a lot of pressure on your defense."

It wasn’t just the pressure on the defense that was the Knicks’ problem early Friday night. The Knicks’ starters again couldn’t find the mark as the Suns took a 57-44 halftime lead. Booker had 21 in the first half and the Suns took control with a 9-0 run for a 17-point lead with 3:48 left in the second quarter.

"Maximum effort and maximum concentration. The two of those things together. That’s what gives you intensity," Thibodeau said. "There’s no magic formula to it. No shortcuts to this. If you want to know where intensity comes from, that’s where it comes from. That’s what it is. The guys that can do it day after day. Those are the most intense guys."

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