Studs and Duds: Knicks loss to the Bucks eliminates them from In-Season Tournament

Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket against New York Knicks defenders in the second half at Fiserv Forum
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks visited Milwaukee to face the Bucks in the quarterfinals of the first-ever In-Season Tournament. Big stakes saw an impressive performance from Julius Randle, but collectively, New York couldn’t get it done. Poor defense and weak execution from the Knicks’ role players saw a dominant display down the stretch from the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks handily secured the 146–122 victory over New York. 

Studs: Julius Randle masterclass 

Julius Randle, the reigning player of the week, came out of the gate torching the Bucks’s defense. He posted an incredible 9/9 from the field in the first half for 25 points and four assists.

This showing was by far Randle’s best game of the season up to this point. There was nothing Bobby Portis and Giannis Antetokounmpo could do as they took turns defending Randle to no avail.

In the second half, he had 16 points to finish the game with 41 points and five assists on 74% from the field in one highly competitive contest until the second half. Now averaging 28.6 points over his last five games, Randle is back in great shape, with incredible performances from the All-NBA forward. 

Duds: Jalen Brunson and the backcourt struggle

With the lights brightest, many expected Jalen Brunson to be the engine for the Knicks’ offense, especially down the stretch. He set the tone with a great pace to start the game, but he had a tough second half on both sides of the basketball.

Averaging 27.2 over his last ten games, Brunson scored 15 in the first half before finishing with just 24 points in the contest. The Knicks’ defense was putrid as Damian Lillard scored 13 straight in the second quarter alone and finished with 28 points on 61% from the floor. A Knicks backcourt with depth as good as any in the NBA did not show in Milwaukee. 

The supporting cast of Brunson in the backcourt combined for 25 points, shooting 29% from the floor. That includes Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart, but especially Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes.

The latter two have had their worst stretch of games so far this season. A night like that performance against Milwaukee makes the Knicks look very intelligent in not paying Quickley max money before the season. Averaging 10 points per game over his last three games, hopefully, Immanuel bounces back big in this next stretch for the Knicks. 

Duds: Quentin Grimes is playing with no confidence

As far as Quentin Grimes, he let his frustrations known in the post-game presser. Grimes stated, “Every shot that I put up feels like it probably weighs 100 pounds.” 

Grimes has heard the noise and instead of moving along to the next game and playing better, he insinuates it is larger than himself and that he is on a short leash. Taking his frustrations to the media instead of asserting himself on the floor, Grimes is averaging 2.3 points per game since returning from a wrist injury. It is time for a change. 

Duds: The Knicks’ defense had no answers for the Bucks’ offense

The Knicks have the seventh-best defensive rating in the NBA for the season but the 22nd-best over the last five games. The season is 82 games, and sustainability is vital to cultivating a winning mentality for the Knicks.

Milwaukee put 146 points on the Knicks, making 23 from beyond the arc on a 60% clip with 32 assists. That is unprecedented. Damian Lillard felt confident enough to say the Bucks left points out there as he stated, “This could have easily been a 160, 165-point game.” 

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Duds: Half-court offense struggles

RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson continue to struggle in half-court offense, but when a team has players that thrive in transition, that equates to playing great defense. That has not been the Knicks as of late, and easy buckets are hard to come by when you give up 146 points in a game.

Knicks have a long road trip upcoming

The Knicks now look ahead to a tough matchup against Boston in TD Garden, coming off their loss to Indiana. Following that, there is one home game against Toronto before a five-game road trip (Jazz, Suns, Clippers, Lakers, Nets) that will show what the Knicks’ potential can be.