Mitchell Robinson’s latest injury comes at a critical time for Knicks

Derrick Rose choked up.

“I’m lost for words,” an emotional Rose told Mike Breen, who delivered the devastating news of Mitchell Robinson suffering a fractured right foot.

The postgame interview turned emotional.

It was a tough Saturday night for the New York Knicks in Milwaukee despite coming out with a 102-96 victory at the Fiserv Forum.

The Knicks were without two starters. Then they lost Robinson in the first quarter. But they were still expected to safely cruise to an easy win, with the Bucks missing seven players, including four starters.

The Knicks had to lean on Alec Burks’ heroics to survive the night.

Burks shattered a 96-deadlock with a three-pointer in the final 79 seconds, then sealed the Knicks’ 24th win at the line after the Bucks missed their three-point tries.

The Bucks played without seven players, including four starters led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. But they had another Antetokounmpo—Thanasis, who poured in a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds and almost led an upset.

The Knicks were also missing two starters—All-Star Julius Randle, who missed his first game of the season with a contused right thigh, and Reggie Bullock is still nursing a sprained right ankle. Then Robinson joined the list of casualty. But the team only learned the severity of the injury after their gutsy win.

Left with a rag-tag team, Mike Budenholzer almost thwarted the Knicks with zone defense. New York, however, hit 16 of 44 three-pointers to survive.

A back-to-back three-pointer from Burks and rookie Immanuel Quickley opened up a 10-point lead, 87-77, for the Knicks at the onset of the final quarter. But the Bucks’ version of ‘The Replacements’ refused to fold up easily.

Pat Connaughton, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and undrafted rookie Mamadi Diakite joined forces to bring Milwaukee within two points, 96-94. Brook Lopez, the lone starter left available for Budenholzer, punctuated the Bucks’ rally with a slam off Antetokounmpo’s fifth assist, with 1:35 left in the game.

Rose, who just came back from his battle with COVID-19, was trapped in the middle of the lane. He kicked it out to Quickley, who quickly swung it to a wide-open Burks for the go-ahead three-pointer.

It was Quickley’s fifth assist and Burks’ sixth three-pointer. The pivotal play was a reflection of the Knicks’ collective effort to go up two games above .500 (24-22) for the first time since January.

The Knicks registered a season-high 28 assists.

Barrett led the Knicks with a season-high seven assists that went with seven boards and 21 points, picking up the mantle of leadership for Randle.

“Today was a little bit different situation, but we found a way to win and pull it out,” Barrett said.

Burks extended his hot streak with at least 20 points to five games. He had 21 for the night and added 10 rebounds, five assists, and two shot blocks.

Rose shot 6-for-15 and finished with 13 points in his first game since missing the Knicks’ last nine games.

Taj Gibson, who had a spot-start at power forward, tallied six points, eight boards, four assists, and four blocks in 34 minutes.

Noel stepped up with Robinson down again. He played 32 minutes and contributed six points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks.

Even rookie Obi Toppin and seldom-used Kevin Knox had their moments. They combined for 11 points off the bench.

“I love our team. I love our versatility,” Tom Thibodeau said afterward.

The whole team rose above the challenge.

“Obviously, they care about each other a lot. Mitch has been terrific to us. So you hate to see
it. It’s a very close-knit group. You have to feel for Mitchell because of all the work he’s put in,” Thibodeau said.

“It’s tough. It’s tough for him. He worked so hard to get back and to see him go down again. It hurts us,” Barrett said. “It hurts the team, but you know, we’ll be with him in every step of the way until he gets back.”

Rose, who survived many serious injuries throughout his career, was devastated and commiserated with Robinson.

“It sucks. Especially the more I got to know him,” Rose said. “For someone like him, seeing how hard he worked to get back and for this to happen just sucks.”

Robinson will be re-evaluated upon their return to New York. But one thing is certain: he’ll be out again for an extended time.

The Knicks will also re-evaluate their options. They have an open roster spot. The timing of Robinson’s injury came on the heels of a report they are no longer interested in pursuing Andre Drummond.

The former two-time All-Star center and four-time league-leading rebounder and the Cleveland Cavaliers have agreed to buyout terms.

Defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly the frontrunner to sign him.

The Memphis Grizzlies also recently waived another former Thibodeau player, Gorgui Dieng.

John Henson and Norvell Pelle, who had a brief stint with the Brooklyn Nets this season, are also available. Both were on the Knicks’ radar when Robinson went down with a broken hand.

The Knicks have a huge decision to make as they enter a critical period in their playoff push. After the Miami Heat on Monday, the Knicks will have 14 games in April featuring teams in contention for the play-in tournament and the playoffs.

The Knicks survived Robinson’s first extended absence with a 9-6 record. There’s no guarantee they can weather a second storm.

“You feel for a teammate, but it’s part of the game. So you have to deal with it as best as you can,” Thibodeau said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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