Freefalling Knicks can’t defend bottom-dwelling Spurs in 5th straight loss

Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
Dec 29, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Malaki Branham (22) dribbles up the court as New York Knicks Immanuel Quickley (5) reaches for the ball during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Julius Randle scored a season-high 41 points, while Immanuel Quickley added a career-high 36. But their individual offensive brilliance was not enough to cover up the New York Knicks‘ lethargic defense as they fell to one of the NBA’s worst teams this season.

Shorthanded and still reeling from a devastating late-game meltdown in Dallas, a disjointed Knicks team showed up in San Antonio, leading to a 122-115 loss to the tanking Spurs Thursday night.

The 12-23 Spurs, one of the teams vying for next lottery’s jackpot Victor Wembanyama, outworked and pummeled the Knicks in their own game.

Tied for the second-best paint defense (46.2 opponents’ points) in the league entering the game, the Knicks allowed the Spurs to score 62 points in the paint.

Mitchell Robinson, who was having a monster December and averaged 16.0 rebounds and 15.0 points in the Knicks’ previous two games, was effectively shut down. The Knicks’ starting center went scoreless and grabbed only six rebounds in 28 minutes.

As a result, San Antonio was a plus-10 in rebounds and a plus-14 in offensive rebounds.

“I want to give [the Spurs] credit. They played really hard, and they played well. But I didn’t think we had the necessary [mindset] like our defense has to be tied together. And the ball was getting into the paint too easily. So we got to fix that.”

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

The Knicks were only competitive in the first six minutes of the game. They last led at 20-18. Then the Spurs closed out the opening quarter with a 20-9 run and the Knicks never got closer within eight in the second half.

Every time New York was poised to make a comeback, San Antonio had an answer.

Keldon Johnson, Quickley’s former Kentucky teammate, paced the Spurs with 30 points, while Romeo Langford continued the Knicks’ trend of allowing role players to have a career night against them. Langford finished with a career-high 23 points on 11 of 16 shooting.

After putting up a career-high 34 in Dallas, Quentin Grimes was held to nine on a woeful 1 of 10 shooting night.

Randle added 11 rebounds and seven assists as he tried to carry the Knicks, who were missing Jalen Brunson (sore right hip), RJ Barrett (lacerated right index finger) and Obi Toppin (Non-displaced fracture right fibula head).

“When you’re down players, your margin of error is smaller, but the intensity, if we do those other things (rebounding and defense) as a team, we can beat anyone. So we have to understand how important that is, particularly when you’re short-handed.”

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

With Quickley and Miles McBride filling in for Barrett and Brunson in the starting unit, Evan Fournier snapped a 22-game stretch of DNPs. Fournier played for the first time since Nov. 13 and led the Knicks’ bench with 11 points.

But with players forced to play different roles in an attempt to plug huge holes, the chemistry wasn’t there for the Knicks on Thursday night.

Their fifth straight loss following a season-high eight-game winning streak pulled them back to .500 (18-18) as they fell to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks will try to end their Texas road trip with a win against the Western Conference’s worst team, Houston Rockets, on Saturday.

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