All-Star break hangover or harbinger? Knicks suffer season’s worst loss

new york knicks, julius randle

Fresh from his first NBA All-Star appearance, Julius Randle had a rude awakening.

Randle didn’t handle well his first game back as a bona fide All-Star and No.1 option. He rammed into a wall in Milwaukee as the Bucks shut him down, resulting in the New York Knicks’ worst loss of the season, 134-101, Thursday night at the Fiserv Forum.

It was a frustrating start for the Knicks, who entered the second half of the season with a winning record (19-18) for the first time in seven years. The loss should serve as an early wake-up call for the Knicks, who have the third-toughest schedule after the All-Star break.

The Bucks executed their game plan to perfection, limiting Randle to a season-low seven points on a brutal 3-for-12 shooting. The constant double and triple-team coverage threw off Randle, and the Knicks went down with their main man.

“I think it’s reading the game. The game’s gonna tell you what shots to take. You have to understand when you’re the first option, and somebody commits sending in a secondary defender, as a primary scorer, you have the responsibility to make the right play,” Tom Thibodeau lamented.

The stagnant offense typified by Randle’s struggles sapped the Knicks’ energy on defense.

On the flip side, the Bucks bullied them.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo picking up from where he left off in Atlanta, the Bucks followed his lead. Milwaukee shot 58 percent and hit 18-of-38 from deep in a dominant performance.

Antetokounmpo won the All-Star Game MVP with a perfect 16-for-16 shooting last Sunday. He followed that up with an 8-for-13 performance against the Knicks on his way to notching his fifth triple-double of the season.

Antetokounmpo, also the reigning back-to-back regular-season MVP, had 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in under 30 minutes to lead the Bucks’ revenge win.

The Knicks, who blasted the Bucks, 130-110, in New York early in the season, was nowhere to be found in Milwaukee on Thursday night. They looked like the Knicks of last year who were running like headless chickens.

A 14-0 run in the first quarter was all the Bucks needed to take the lead, which they never relinquished. Though the Knicks’ second unit closed the gap to five at the end of the first quarter, the Bucks starters came back to restore order.

Milwaukee drew double figures from all its starters while RJ Barrett was the lone Stallion for the Knicks’ starting unit.

Barrett led the Knicks with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting, with Alec Burks adding 17 and eight assists off the bench.

The loss added to the Knicks’ woes against teams above .500 as they dropped to 5-11 in those games this season. They will try to lick the wounds of this stinging loss when they continue a tough four-game road trip in Oklahoma City this Saturday.

The Knicks are also hoping to avenge their 101-89 loss at the Thunder’s hands in The Garden back in January.

Randle is eager to bounce back as he insisted Thursday’s night’s loss was just an off night that usually comes after the All-Stat break.

“I’m not too worried, man. As far as I remember, the past couple of years, the first game after the break, I’m always sh*tty,” Randle said.

Randle was right.

Last year, he also had a similar seven-point game on 2-for-9 shooting against the Indiana Pacers after the All-Star break. He responded with 10 straight double-digit performances while leading the Knicks to a 4-6 record during that stretch before COVID-19 shut the league down.

The Knicks could only hope Randle can find his rhythm back as it’s clear that they could only go as far as he takes them.

Not unless a significant help comes before the trade deadline to ease his burden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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