The two players that got away came back to haunt the New York Knicks.
Mikal Bridges, whom the Knicks passed on the 2018 NBA Draft, and Chris Paul, a trade target last summer, delivered the big blows that ended the Knicksâ€™ winning streak at nine.
Bridges and Paul combined for the Phoenix Sunsâ€™ last 12 points in a 118-110 win Monday night at The Garden as they wrapped up their road trip at 3-2.
Bridges hit a three-pointer and a baseline dunk that gave the Suns a comfortable 111-102 lead with 2:53 left. But the Knicks refused to fold up easily and cut the deficit to four, 111-107, on an RJ Barrett drive.
Paul took over from there, scoring the Sunsâ€™ last seven points to seal the victory.
â€œThe guys have been fighting all year. In the second half, with the score at 113-110, I thought we had a pretty good defense on Chris and he made a tough shot. You tip your hat. And we got to get going again,â€ Tom Thibodeau said.
Paulâ€™ off-balance jumper with the shot clock winding down took the wind out of the Knicks.
It was a tough loss for the Knicks, who led by as many as 15 and had a four-point lead in the last 10 minutes. But Paul stood tall in the end with the leadership and steady hands that the Knicks lacked.
If thereâ€™s any takeaway from this loss, the Knicks could take solace in the way they dragged the second-best team in the league to the finish line despite Julius Randle playing sub-par.
Randle turned from a wrecking ball into a trainwreck. Derrick Rose tried to pick up the slack with 22 points, 10 coming in the final frame, but it wasnâ€™t enough.
After averaging 30.1 points during the Knicksâ€™ hot streak, Randle cooled off. The Suns’ defense held him to 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
Barrett had a quiet 17 points on 18 shots.
Reggie Bullock waxed hot early with 12 first quarter points that helped the Knicks lead by 15, 30-15. But he went into early foul trouble shadowing the Sunsâ€™ super scorer Devin Booker. Bullock ended up with 17.
Booker cooked the Knicks with 33 points, with the bulk coming in the middle quarters where the Suns slowly chipped away the Knicksâ€™ lead. Phoenix didnâ€™t grab the lead until late in the third quarter.
An 87-deadlock at the end of the third quarter set up the dramatic finish wrapped with playoff intensity.
The Knicksâ€™ defense, usually sharp in the fourth quarter during the nine-game run, faltered down the stretch. The Suns torched them with 31 points in the final 12 minutes.
Cameron Johnson also stepped up for the Suns. Johnson, the 11th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft where Barrett went third, hit three triples in the fourth quarter after missing his first seven attempts. His last two ignited the Sunsâ€™ breakaway from a tight 97-96 score. By the time he drilled his third three-pointer, the Suns were up by eight, 106-98.
Then Bridges made the Knicks pay for passing up on him at no. 9 in 2019. They used that pick to tab Kevin Knox who couldnâ€™t even crack Thibodeauâ€™s rotation.
Both Bridges and Paul shot an identical 8-for-12 from the field. Bridges finished 21 points while Paul added 20 and six assists.
The Knicks will wrap up their current homestand against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday before embarking on a tough six-game road trip. They remained at fourth seed in the Eastern Conference as the Atlanta Hawks also lost to the Detroit Pistons earlier in the night.
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