It was a similar sad refrain, repeated by Julius Randle, then RJ Barrett, then Damyean Dotson. They spoke of the missing urgency, of the lackluster shootaround, of the sloppy, inconsistent play.
“It’s unacceptable,” Randle said after the Knicks’ 121-115 loss to the undermanned Wizards on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
And it really was that bad. It’s not just that the Knicks lost, or that they trailed by 17 in the fourth quarter after taking an early 13-point lead. And it’s not just that it was a loss to a 12th- place team. It’s that it was a loss to maybe half of a 12th-place team.
“It shouldn’t have gotten to that point,” Randle said. “We should have never been in that position [down by 17]. From top to bottom, how we approached the game was terrible. That can’t happen.”
The Wizards (9-20) did not have Isaiah Thomas — he’s serving a two-game suspension for a fan altercation in Philadelphia — and didn’t have all that much bench to speak of, either. They were down to 10 players, two of whom were recent G League additions. One, Gary Payton II, had never even practiced with the team. Another two were with their G League affiliate until Nov. 20.
It should have been a respite for the Knicks. It should have been an opportunity. Instead, they were dealt another disappointment in a disappointing season. They fell to 3-6 in the Mike Miller era and 7-24 overall.
Bradley Beal had 30 points, two steals and two blocks, and Troy Brown Jr. added 26 points and nine rebounds. Anzejs Pasecniks — one of the late G League additions — had 14 points.
Randle had a season-high 35 points for the Knicks.
“When someone comes into your house and outworks you, it’s not a good feeling,” said Barrett who had 18 points. “They wanted it more, and when you want it more, you make the effort plays.”
All three dour players to speak after the game — Randle, Barrett and Dotson — pointed to the weak shootaround that morning. The Knicks had Sunday off after brutal back-to-back losses to the Heat and Bucks, players would be celebrating the holidays over the next two days and, Randle said, the effort, execution and mental focus were not there.
And Monday may have stung a little more because the Knicks were coming off the two bad losses against good teams — teams that only further exposed a long list of flaws that parting ways with David Fizdale could not fix. They were outscored by 38 points against the Heat and the Bucks but had a better situation against Washington, thanks to the Wizards’ lengthy inactive list (six rotation players).
The Wizards scored the first 14 points of the third quarter and scored 12 straight points in the fourth quarter to go up 116-99 witih 4:40 left, but the Knicks scored eight straight points in the waning minutes of the game.
Mitchell Robinson’s putback dunk with 1:20 left made it 118-113, forcing the Wizards into a timeout, and Robinson’s block and Randle’s putback helped them draw within three. But Elfrid Payton’s three-point attempt glanced off the rim with about 10 seconds left and the Knicks were forced to foul Brown, who made three of four free throws to close it out.
“Everybody has slip-ups,” said Dotson, who had 19 points. “But I feel like [effort] is something we can control. We can control our engine. We can control our energy. We can control our effort. We have to do a better job of locking in.”