Knicks knew what was coming but still failed to stop Timberwolves’ hot start

Taurean Prince, RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

The New York Knicks had a defensive game plan but failed to execute it.

The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Madison Square Garden as one of the hot starting teams in the league. They were averaging 30.3 points in the first quarter, tied for third-best in the league. They came out firing 42 points over the Knicks’ porous defense en route to a 140-134 win.

“They’re a big first quarter team we talked about that going into the game and they got everything,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau lamented after the game.

Well, they didn’t have everything as Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, their top two scorers, missed the game with injuries.

What made the loss frustrating was they let role players like Taurean Prince play like superstars.

Prince made history with his season-high 35 points on 12 of 13 shooting, including eight for eight from behind the arc. He became the first NBA player to finish a game with 30+ points, 8+ 3s, and a field goal percentage of 90.0% or higher.

With Prince hitting his strides from the outside and Rudy Gobert dominating inside with a combined 21 first-quarter points, the Knicks trailed by double digits for most of the game.

“They had their way,” Thibodeau said. “We got a big hole, fought to get up and got to get out of it and then came up short in the end.”

Julius Randle dropped a career-high 57 points, including a franchise record 26 points in the third quarter, as the Knicks battled back from a 17-point deficit and twice led by five in the fourth quarter, the last with 4:41 left.

But Randle and the Knicks ran out of steam as the Timberwolves finished the game with a 16-7 run to escape with the victory.

“We were playing with fire the whole game,” Thibodeau said.

Minnesota drew seven players in double figures. Veteran guard Mike Conley’s leadership down the stretch calmed the shorthanded Timberwolves. Conley had six of his 24 points and two of his 11 assists down the stretch, with his last dime setting up Prince’s dagger.

The Knicks were late in rotations, allowing the Timberwolves to hit 61.4% from the floor and 14 of 24 3s. Worse, they also gave up 32 free throws.

“It’s hard to win like that,” Thibodeau said. “We looked like we were in mud, a step behind on everything.”

The loss ended the Knicks’ three-game winning streak and cut their lead over the sixth-seed Brooklyn Nets to two games and three games over the seventh-seed Miami Heat, who they will face twice in their last nine games, beginning on Wednesday in Miami.

Getting stuck in the mud on defense will pull them down in the standings.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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