Julius Randle couldn’t replicate his clutch moment in Miami.
Randle had a costly turnover down the stretch as the gritty New York Knicks fell short of their comeback bid at the start of their four-game road trip.
NBA’s clutch time leader De’Aaron Fox took over in the fourth quarter to lead the surging Sacramento Kings to a 122-117 victory over the Knicks Thursday night at Golden1 Center.
Too bad Jalen Brunson wasn’t there to challenge Fox.
Brunson scored 19 points in the first half but did not return after the break with a lingering left foot injury. Fox, who only had eight points in the first half, delivered a sensational performance down the stretch. Fox dropped 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as he had an answer to every Knicks run.
RJ Barrett, who paced the Knicks with 25 points, briefly tied the game 96-96 with a three-pointer to beat the shot clock buzzer. But Fox responded with seven straight points that stymied the Knicks.
Josh Hart’s brilliant all-around game was dampened by his critical turnover on an inbound play that allowed Domantas Sabonis to stretch the Kings’ lead to nine with 2:09 left. The Knicks mounted another rally, with Randle pumping in four points in a 7-0 Knicks run to pull them within a basket.
Fox was there to answer again. His strong drive gave the Kings a four-point cushion.
Then Randle lost his handle coming off a timeout.
The Kings sealed their 39th win with steady free-throw shooting.
It was a tough loss for the Knicks, who battled back from a 16-point halftime deficit and trailed by as many as 21 in the opening half.
Hart typified New York’s resilience with 15 rebounds, including a franchise record-tying eight offensive rebounds by a guard. The Knicks grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, which they converted to 17 second-chance points that sparked their second-half comeback.
Hart added nine points, seven assists, and three steals, but his inbound error haunted them down the stretch.
They sorely missed Brunson’s calming leadership in the clutch.
Brunson hit 6 of 12 shots in the first half, but the rest of the team’s horrible shooting dug them a deep hole.
The Knicks shot 6 of 24 from downtown in the first two quarters. They wound up going 13 for 50 from deep, with Quentin Grimes (19 points) accounting for four of the Knicks’ seven 3s in the second half. They also missed 11 free throws — four each by Barrett and Randle — that kept them from getting over the hump.
Compounding their shooting woes in the first half was their inability to stop Sabonis, who hit five of his first six shots. Sabonis, the league’s double-double leader, ended up with a triple-double (24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists) to complement Fox’s clutch plays.
Randle overcame a 2 for 9 shooting in the first half to come up with 23 points. He added 10 rebounds and five assists for his 39th double-double.
Immanuel Quickley was a big letdown since his career game in Boston. He missed his first 10 attempts before sinking a three-pointer late in the game.
The Knicks need Quickley to step up with Brunson’s availability for the remainder of their West Coast trip now uncertain. Brunson’s potential absence put the Knicks in a bind as they try to keep hold of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with 14 games left.
Their second straight loss dropped them to 39-29 after a season-high nine-game winning streak. Despite that, they maintained their one-game lead over the sixth-seed Brooklyn Nets (37-29), who lost in Milwaukee.
The Knicks will continue their trip against the Los Angeles teams — Clippers and Lakers — in a back-to-back game on Saturday and Sunday.
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