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After 25-point first half by Austin Rivers, Knicks go cold, lose to Jazz

Knicks guard RJ Barrett knifes through a narrow

Knicks guard RJ Barrett knifes through a narrow opening in the Utah defense. Barrett had 17 points in the Knicks' 108-94 loss to the Jazz on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Salt Lake City.   Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

For much of the night, the Knicks were beating the odds. They watched Utah, one of the best-shooting teams in the NBA, clank shot after shot. And Austin Rivers put on a first-half performance that had even Steph Curry tweeting his amazement.

But the odds always catch up.

The Knicks went cold. The Jazz began to drain their open shots. And the Knicks saw their four-game road trip end with a three-game losing streak as they fell, 108-94, on Tuesday night at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.

Rivers spoke in the morning about the draining road trip the team was finishing up, admitting, "We’re definitely tired." But the Knicks looked far more energetic than the Jazz in the opening half, building a 59-46 lead at the break after leading by as many as 15 points.

Rivers connected on all 10 of his field-goal attempts in the half, including 5-for-5 from three-point range, and scored 25 points in 12:20. In the second quarter, he scored 18 points in 7:26. But he missed all four of his attempts in the second half, and that proved a fitting hint of what was happening. The Knicks were outscored 62-35 after halftime and managed only 13 points in the fourth quarter.

"I mean, guys were dead," Rivers said of the second-half collapse. "So I don’t know what the reason was for that. But just looking across the board with like five or six minutes left in the fourth, I’m looking around and it didn’t look like we were ourselves as a unit.

"Just our energy, our energy changed the second half. They became more physical. They took the fight to us. It just felt like it kind of fell apart there. Once it fell apart, they just kept their foot on the pedal and we weren’t able to get it back. It was tough, a tough loss. This was the toughest one on the trip."

With 20/20 hindsight, coach Tom Thibodeau and Rivers second-guessed themselves after the game. With the Knicks leading 50-37, as Rivers began a drive, he elbowed Donovan Mitchell in the face, picking up his third foul with 4:34 left in the second quarter. Thibodeau pulled him and didn’t put him back in until 4:11 remained in the third quarter. By then, the Jazz had erased their entire deficit, although Julius Randle sank a three-pointer to give the Knicks a 72-69 lead moments before Rivers returned.

Rivers wondered afterward if he should have been more aggressive as the Jazz clamped down on him.

"I had three fouls, they took me out, which is totally understandable," he said. "I usually don’t come in until the end of the third, so it’s just a lot of time. But that had nothing to do with me in the second half not being able to score. It just wasn’t there. And I wasn’t going to force shots to get my numbers up.

"I could’ve shot some tough threes. I definitely could’ve been more aggressive. But at the same time, every time I got it, they were loaded up or they were blitzing on the pick-and-roll. So that’s where you just try to get off it and trust guys to make plays. Which guys have done that all year. Tonight just wasn’t our night."

When Jordan Clarkson picked up a loose ball and beat the Knicks’ defense down the floor for a three-point play 57 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Jazz had their first lead since the opening minutes at 83-81.

Rivers' early hot streak covered up some of the flaws for the Knicks. Randle had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and RJ Barrett had 17 points and shot 7-for-11, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. But Alec Burks, starting in his return to Utah, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career, shot 3-for-14 and 0-for-7 from three-point range. Immanuel Quickley was 1-for-11.

Royce O'Neale scored 20 points, Mike Conley Jr. added 19 and Rudy Gobert had 18 points, 19 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Jazz.

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