The Knicks have been able to collect impressive wins over some of the elite teams in the NBA this season. On Friday night, they found themselves facing one of the league’s struggling teams, a Sacramento Kings squad with a four-game losing streak and the worst defense in the NBA.
And maybe it’s a sign that while the Knicks have played far better this season than anyone outside of their locker room could have expected, they have a long way to go. They managed only 40 points in the second half and lost to the Kings, 103-94, at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
While the Knicks' defense was on target with the points allowed, the offense stalled, and when it counted, they were outrun and outhustled by the young Kings guards.
Sacramento entered the game allowing a league-high 123 points per game.
"It wasn’t like the usual high energy, and sometimes you’re in a back-to-back, you’ve got to fight through those things," Tom Thibodeau said. "I felt that I did like the fight in the fourth quarter to come back and put ourselves in position where we had the opportunity to win, but we didn’t close it out. It’s hard to win on the road if you’re not doing all the little things. We’ll take a look at the film, make our corrections, the games keep coming, we’ll have to improve."
Julius Randle had 26 points and 15 rebounds for the Knicks (8-9), who had won three straight games. RJ Barrett added 21 points and Mitchell Robinson had 12 points and 10 rebounds, but no one else did much.
At one point, Barrett was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and the rest of the Knicks shot a combined 1-for-14. The team finished 5-for-22 from three-point range.
De’Aaron Fox led Sacramento with 22 points and seven assists. Harrison Barnes had 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and rookie Tyrese Haliburton had 16 points and four blocked shots. Richaun Holmes added 10 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots.
The Knicks were down double-digits early but fought back to take leads after the first quarter and at halftime. But the Kings outscored them 27-18 in the third quarter to go ahead by four, and when Thibodeau went with his bench to start the fourth quarter, the Knicks fell behind by as many as 12.
A 13-3 run moved the Knicks to within 89-87, but the Kings clamped down defensively and scored seven straight points before Randle finally scored on a follow with 2:00 remaining.
When the offensively challenged Knicks beat Golden State on Thursday to begin a four-game road trip, it seemed worth noting that Barrett led the way with a career-high 28 points.
When Thibodeau talked about Barrett after the game, he gave him a number of compliments but never got to the scoring output as something worth praising. And that was with good reason, because the second-year wing has been inconsistent with his shooting and has yet to reach the lofty heights to which some of the players from his draft class have ascended.
But maybe as much as anyone on the roster, he has been molded in Thibodeau’s image as a versatile player who does more than just score.
"I think RJ’s played really well over, I’d say, like the last five or six games, playing at a really high level," Thibodeau said. "He started off the season where he had a big opening night and I think teams came after him pretty good. But he’s adjusting, and even during the stretch where he wasn’t shooting particularly well, he was rebounding great and he was playmaking.
"I think now he’s playing a great all-around game. His floor game is terrific. His defense is vastly improved. And he’s making the right reads. He’s got a good blend going of scoring and passing. He’s commanding a lot of attention, which is opening things up, so I’m very pleased with his progress."