MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Consider Friday night a sharp reminder and a series of back-to-reality moments for the Knicks.
They may be improved. They may be considerably better than the 37-win outfit from last season. But they aren’t in the same stratosphere as the title-contending Bucks.
Even without key players Joe Ingles, Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton, Milwaukee, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, toyed with the Knicks for two quarters and then ran them off the court in the third.
Antetokounmpo got Mitchell Robinson in foul trouble and dominated the other Knicks. Jrue Holiday put on a third-quarter show. The Knicks’ big three of Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean when it mattered. The result was a one-sided 119-108 loss at Fiserv Forum that exposed many of the Knicks’ flaws.
“At the end, we had more urgency and did a better job, but you have to play for 48 minutes against those guys,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I didn’t think we did that.”
The Knicks were only down by six points, midway through the third quarter, when the undefeated Bucks (4-0) finally put the hammer down. In a dizzying span of 2:34, Milwaukee unleashed a furious 18-0 run that included three 3-pointers and eight points from Antetokounmpo. The Knicks (3-2) trailed by 11 after three quarters, and they never got closer than nine over the final 12 minutes in falling to 0-2 on the road.
“They were flying around, communicating,” Derrick Rose said of the Bucks. “When you’re playing defense like that, it’s kind of hard and it’s kind of intimidating when you’re playing against a defense like that, when everyone is on the same page. You could tell they were on a mission and we came out a little bit sluggish in the beginning.”
Unlike their first game away from the Garden, an overtime loss to the Grizzlies, the Knicks were significantly outplayed this time. They were soundly beaten on the glass, allowing 19 offensive rebounds, and their stars were mostly no-shows.
Antetokounmpo compiled nine assists, more than Brunson, Randle and Barrett combined (six), and the Bucks superstar scored 30 points, more than Randle and Brunson combined (27). The most memorable moment from the Knicks’ trio was Brunson’s half-court shot at the first-half horn — and it didn’t even count. The Knicks’ offense, so efficient and free-flowing in the first four games, was locked down by Milwaukee’s stellar defense, held to 40.2 percent shooting.
“They kept baiting us into shooting those floaters and mid-range [jumpers],” said Evan Fournier, who scored 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. “Too often we did, but too early in the clock. If you have a shot you can have after five seconds of offense, why rush it? … I thought we rushed it, that got them going so they can run.”
Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP, also had 14 rebounds, while former Knick Bobby Portis added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Bucks.
Barrett led the Knicks with 20 points, but his 3-point shooting woes continued in a 1-for-7 night that dropped him to 4-for-28 from distance this season. Brunson was held to season-lows in points (13) and assists (two) and Randle committed as many turnovers (three) as made field goals (three) in 31 minutes of little impact.
Although the deficit was just six at halftime, the Knicks were being outplayed. The Bucks only shot 5-for-19 from deep in that opening half, but that changed in the third quarter in their haymaker of an 18-0 run. The Knicks attempted to counterpunch, but only delayed the inevitable.
“It’s about learning,” Fournier said. “This is the [first game] we did not do well, especially offensively.”
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