New York Bricks: Knicks suffer first loss under Thibodeau

After an impressive preseason debut, the New York Knicks went crashing back to earth following a 99-91 loss to the Detroit Pistons Sunday night. 

The defensive effort was nowhere near Friday night’s level as they fell to as many 15 points early on in this game. 

Shooting woes continue

The Knicks failed to dictate the tempo from the tip-off, with the Pistons setting the tone with their 2-3 zone. But it was a good test for the Knicks, as far as coach Tom Thibodeau is concerned.

“I like the situation we just went through because you’re playing the same team,’’ Thibodeau said. “Usually, you win a game against an opponent, and you play them again based on experiences in playoff basketball, that team comes with an edge. I felt that would happen. It did. I felt we were back on our heels at the start of the game. The start of the game really got us in a hole.’’

The slow start did the Knicks in.

They were able to make only 1 of 6 outside shots in the opening quarter. In contrast, the Pistons’ offense was blazing, sinking five treys, as they raced to a 31-20 start.

Overall, the Knicks only shot 8 of 33 from the three-point region. But it was a slight improvement from their 5 of 23 effort last Friday.

Starter Alec Burks is their best three-point threat by far, going 4 of 8 against the Pistons overall, including 3 of 5 Sunday night.

Rookie wall

Obi Toppin hit the rookie wall in his second preseason game. After energizing the bench last Friday, Toppin was part of the bench on Sunday that allowed the Pistons to break away for good.

Toppin wound up with only four points on 1 of 9 shooting and four rebounds this time.

“I don’t know if he was less active,’’ Thibodeau said of Toppin. “When the ball doesn’t go in for you, it can look that way. There are ups and downs in a season. We have a lot of players who measure everything with how it’s going offensively for them. You can’t do that in this league. There are some nights you shoot the ball better than others. When you don’t shoot it well, you have to have an understanding you can play well by doing other things.’’

The next two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers — the team that passed up on him at No. 5 — will give us the chance to see how he respond from a debacle.

Bench throws the monkey wrench

Toppin wasn’t the only one who struggled. Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox combined to shoot 2 of 11 from the field. Reggie Bullock went 1 of 7 from deep.

The Pistons outscored the Knicks’ bench, 60-26, with Sekou Doumbouya exploding for 23 points and five rebounds, while Derrick Rose added 11 points and eight assists.

“Some good and some bad tonight,’’ Thibodeau said of Smith’s play. “He wasn’t on the floor at the start of the game, and that’s what set the tone. [In] the second quarter, we got swallowed up, didn’t make good plays.’’

RJ getting more comfortable

The Knicks showed signs of life in the third quarter, with RJ Barrett and Alec Burks combining for 20 points. The Knicks were able to take a three-point lead momentarily on Julius Randle’s free throws at the two-minute mark, but Doumbouya willed the Pistons to tie the game 75-all. 

After allowing the Pistons to 31 first-quarter points on 11 of 20 field goals, the Knicks managed to limit them to only 68 points on just 37.5 percent shooting the rest of the way.

“I thought we played well in the third quarter. We had one good quarter of basketball,” Thibodeau said. “In the first game, we had 35, 36 minutes of good basketball. So we regressed today. We have to take with us what happened in this game. Look at it, learn from it, and make improvements.

After a horrible 0-6 start in the preseason, Barrett has since shot 17 of 27. He led the Knicks with 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting and, more importantly, went 4 of 5 at the free-throw line.

In two games, Barrett has led the Knicks in scoring with 20 points per game. His free throw shooting has improved tremendously, hitting 5 of 7 overall so far. Last season, he only shot 61.4 percent from the line.

“It’s (speed of the game) a little slower,” Barrett said. “I’m a little more comfortable. I kind of know what to expect a little bit more.”

Quickley quickly impresses

The Pistons recognized that the Knicks’ Achilles heel is the point guard spot. Every time the Knicks’ point guards try to set the table, the Pistons sent an automatic double or even triple-double coverage at times.

The Knicks’ other rookie Immanuel Quickley made his much-anticipated debut. His lone assist in nine minutes of action came off a triple-double coverage sent to him on top of the arc that led to a wide-open Toppin triple.

Quickley’s debut line was a quiet two points, missing his lone three-point attempt, two rebounds, and an assist. But Thibodeau liked what he saw from the rookie guard out of Kentucky.

“I like him,’’ Thibodeau said. “[He had] some jitters early on. He’s not afraid of competing. We didn’t see him shoot the ball. He’s a knockdown shooter. We like to see more of those. We see him do it in practice all the time. When he raises up to shoot, you think it’s going in.’’

We should see more of Quickley when the Knicks will host the Cavaliers on Wednesday and Friday at the fan-less Madison Square Garden to wrap their preseason schedule. Both games will be aired live on MSG Network at 7:30 p.m. E.T.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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