The Knicks‘ starters have taken a lot of heat already. New York coach Tom Thibodeau shielded them and took ownership this time.
Two nights after showing endgame grit in a gutsy win over Indiana Pacers, the Knicks crumbled in crunch time as they lost for the second straight time to Eastern Conference’s bottom-dweller Orlando Magic this season.
Errant passes by second-year guard Immanuel Quickley, hero of Monday’s win, and veteran Derrick Rose doomed the Knicks. The Magic pounced, and they escaped with a 104-98 win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Two of Orlando’s only four wins so far this season came on the Knicks’ home floor, a rare occurrence as the Magic have never done this since the 2017-18 season.
“Unfortunately, we beat ourselves. Our turnovers hurt us. The second shot hurt us. We’re capable of playing a lot better than we did. We give them credit. They played well. They played hard. We didn’t,” Thibodeau said. “I have to do a better job getting them ready. That’s on me. We’ll take a good look hard at it.”
The Knicks committed 18 turnovers, with the last two hurting them the most.
Terrence Ross intercepted Quickley’s lazy pass and converted it into a breakaway dunk as the Magic grabbed the lead, 95-94, with 2:56 left. Quickley atoned for his mistake with a feed to RJ Barrett for the Knicks’ last lead, 96-97. But Orlando went on a 9-2 closing run, sealing New York’s fate with a Wendell Carter Jr.’s alley-oop slam off Rose’s turnover in the final 30 seconds.
The Knicks slid to 8-7, and with 15 games in, the disturbing trend of inconsistent effort from the starters continued.
New additions Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier combined for only 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting and were reduced to spectators again down the stretch. Thibodeau went small in the final 3:42 when Julius Randle replaced Mitchell Robinson with the Knicks up, 94-91. They went super small when Rose was re-inserted for Obi Toppin, who was spectacular with a season-high-tying 14 points off the bench.
Randle did not log in a single attempt. He had a steal, but Rose turned it over.
“It’s tough. It’s a lot to fix,” Randle said. “Sh*t’s not going well for us right now.”
Randle finished with only 13 points on 11 shots and contributed three of the Knicks’ 18 turnovers which the Magic converted into 21 points. The starters went into another lull in the third quarter before the second unit led by Toppin picked them up. The Knicks’ bench reinforced by Barrett transformed an 11-point deficit into a five-point lead on a Toppin jumper with 6:33 to go. But the Knicks could not hold it down. They gave up a combined 36 points on second chance and transition baskets.
Their defense, particularly the starters, is not as connected as last season. But it was expected as they replaced the previous season’s defensive-oriented backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock with more offensive-minded players. The projected firepower addition that should compensate for the defensive regression has yet to pan out consistently.
Almost a quarter into the season, Thibodeau is still searching for the right combinations. But it’s hard to build chemistry with the constant mix and matching of lineups.
“It’s all part of it. The good thing about it is you have depth. Sometimes, the tough thing is trying to figure out who’s going well and that sort of thing,” said a defiant Thibodeau, who hinted before the game that the starting lineup would remain intact for the foreseeable future. “Hey, look, we’re capable of doing better, and we have to. Our only way out is we got to work our way out of this.”
Where do they start?
“The first thing you have to do is eliminate the ways in which you beat yourself,” said Thibodeau referring to their defense, rebounding, and low turnovers. “That’s got to be the priority.”
Thibodeau forgot one more thing. Consistent effort.
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