Frank Four The Win: Knicks reach .500, tie Raptors at No. 4

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina

Julius Randle won the duel of NBA All-Star forwards, then Frank Ntilikina stole the thunder in the end.

The seldom-used French guard completed a steal with 4.7 seconds left, then buried two pressure-packed free throws that preserved Randle’s big game and lifted the New York Knicks to a 110-107 win over the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden.

The come-from-behind win at the start of a back-to-back schedule pushed the Knicks to .500 and tied the Toronto Raptors (17-17) for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

“We didn’t start the game well. It was funky. We have to work our way through. It was a long game. But the most important thing is we found a way to win in the end,” Tom Thibodeau said. “A lot of people stepped up and made big plays.”

One of them was Randle, who delivered big on both ends.

The first-time All-Star finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four steals. It was Randle’s ninth game with a 25-10-5 stats line this season, tied for the second-most in a season in Knicks history, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Bob McAdoo holds the record with 15 during the 1977-78 season.

But more than closing in on the franchise record, Randle helped the Knicks won the regular-season series against Indiana by locking up fellow All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis was held down below his average (21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds) and could only cough up 15 and 7 against five turnovers in 37 minutes.

With Sabonis frustrated, former Knicks Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott carried the Pacers’ offense and combined for 33 points through the first three quarters. Then the Knicks defense held them scoreless the rest of the way.

But the Pacers stretched Thibodeau’s thinning rotation in this game.

Two nights after the Knicks scored a season-high 140 points, they found themselves staring at an 8-0 hole at the start. The Pacers extended it to 16.

To compound the Knicks woes, they lost Taj Gibson to an ankle injury, leaving them with only Nerlens Noel as their lone big man.

“Next man up. We’ve got more than enough with the players that we have,” Thibodeau said afterward.

“I know Leon (team president Leon Rose), and Wes (executive vice president William Wesley), and Scott (GM Scott Perry) will look into players that are available. That’s their area. I’m just focused on the guys we have. We’ll figure out a way,” added Thibodeau putting pressure on the front office to get him frontline help.

Thibodeau had to dig deep, employing Randle as a center with Kevin Knox at four. The small ball worked for a while as the Knicks ended the second quarter with an 11-3 run. They forced the Pacers to three turnovers in the last 2:26 of the opening half and pushed the ball to take a 54-52 lead at the break.

New York built a nine-point lead, 89-80, in the fourth quarter but Indiana, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, refused to quit. They came back behind unheralded guard Edmon Sumner and took a 98-93 lead. Barrett and Randle responded with a 9-0 run as the Knicks took the lead back, 102-98.

Noel played for extended minutes (41:15) and still delivered. He had eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks, a crucial steal, and two free throws with 1:15 left that gave New York a breathing room, 106-103.

Randle extended the Knicks lead to five, 108-103, on two free throws off Sabonis’ fourth foul. But Sabonis made up for it with a three-pointer at the top of the key to cut the lead down to two.

RJ Barrett, who also had a big night (24 points and 7 rebounds), missed two free throws that set up Ntilikina’s endgame heroics.

With Randle nursing five fouls, Thibodeau pulled the defensive ace up his sleeve.

The gambit paid off.

Rose had another strong game with 17 points, a season-high 11 assists, and four steals in his second start. His active hands led to Ntilikina’s pivotal play.

“It looked like Sabonis was being shaky with the ball. I saw the guard was at the top. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. I saw the ball was going back, and I just tried to go for it. It was just perfect timing, and Frank was able to get the ball,” Rose said of the game-sealing play.

Now the Knicks will travel to Detroit with a chance to move above .500 against the Pistons and the rejuvenated Dennis Smith Jr.

The former Knick, who was traded for Rose, is coming off his best game of the season (17 points and six assists) in a road loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Smith has scored in double figures in his last three games, averaging 14 points, 4.7 assists, and shooting 53 percent during that stretch.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Should the New York Knicks consider trading RJ Barrett in blockbuster deal?

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

If the New York Knicks really want to acquire a star player, they are going to have to give up some premium assets. The Knicks have been linked to Washington star Bradley Beal, who is a bonafide superstar and would immediately make the Knicks a better team.

While Beal has only reached the All-Star game twice, he’s averaged over 30 points per game the past two seasons and is just 27 years old. Over 25 games this year, Beal is averaging 32.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 5.2 rebounds, arguably his best season to date.

Michael Kay stated several days ago that the Knicks were quietly trying to lure Bradley Beal out of Washington:

“I’ve got it from a very good source that the Knicks are quietly interested in a Bradley Beal. How’s that gonna happen? He’s signed to a long-term deal. He has not said he wanted to be traded. But you forget, the Knicks have World Wide Wes on their side. He’s been in the ears of some of Beal’s people and kinda nudging them that this might be the time to push for a trade,” Kay said on his ESPN radio show last week.

The issue, Washington would likely demand a massive deal, including multiple first-round picks, some of which would be unprotected. In addition, they might even ask for RJ Barrett, a player the Knicks might feel too highly about to part ways with.

Bobby Marks of ESPN told Alder Almo of ESM that the Knicks would have to be willing to give up RJ Barrett in the deal.

Ultimately, acquiring a player like Bradley would be costly, but pairing him with Julius Randle, Immanuel  Quickley, Mitchell Robinson, and more would be a playoff-caliber move. In addition, they have plenty of current players on rookie deals, meaning they would still have more salary space to acquire another big name this upcoming off-season.

Alternatively, RJ Barrett is just 20 years old and averaging 16.5 points per game this season over 33.7 minutes. He’s taking a slight step forward but has shown a bit more maturity in his game, and considering Beal was averaging very similar numbers at the same age back in 2013, there is hope that Barrett could develop into an elite player, but it might be five years down the line.

The real question is, do the Knicks favor making the playoffs now or later, and do they value Randle enough to inject more talent into the starting squad alongside him, or they feel as though their youth is capable of picking up the load when he eventually moves on?

Beal or No Deal: Knicks reportedly interested in Beal; Barrett on the move?

Is Bradley Beal New York-bound?

Beal remained adamant that he’s not quitting on the Washington Wizards. But an influential New York Knicks executive is reportedly cooking up a Beal trade.

Last week, Michael Kay reported that Knicks vice president and senior basketball advisor William Wesley, more famously known as World Wide Wes, is working through back channels to land Beal in New York.

“I’ve got it from a very good source that the Knicks are quietly interested in a Bradley Beal. How’s that gonna happen? He’s signed to a long-term deal. He has not said he wanted to be traded. But you forget, the Knicks have World Wide Wes on their side. He’s been in the ears of some of Beal’s people and kinda nudging them that this might be the time to push for a trade,” Kay said on his ESPN radio show last week.

Brightest star in the biggest market

Beal is fresh from getting his first All-Star starter nod, ranking first in fans, media, and players’ votes among all Eastern Conference guards. He’s leading the league in scoring with a career-high 32.8 points per game on 47/34/90 shooting splits. The 27-year old star is also putting up career-best 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.3 steals. But despite his spectacular numbers, the Wizards are in the bottom three in the East though they have won their last three games.

On the flip side, things are getting rosy in New York. The Knicks are in the playoff conversations and are quickly becoming an attractive destination. New team president Leon Rose, along with Williams and head coach Tom Thibodeau, has dramatically changed New York’s culture.

The appeal to Beal in New York is a chance to become the biggest star in the biggest NBA market. And if he wins in New York, that will cement his basketball legacy.

Aggressive buyer

Along with their early on-court success, a treasure trove of picks, and a $15 million cap space, the Knicks are in a prime position to be an aggressive buyer in the trade market.

They own all their first-round picks plus two more from Dallas via the Kristaps Porzingis trade. All in all, the Knicks have seven first-round picks and eight second-rounders through the 2025 NBA Draft.

Stefan Bondy of the Daily News reported that the Knicks are also monitoring CJ McCollum’s situation in Portland. But ESPN’s Front Office Insider and former Brooklyn Nets’ assistant general manager Bobby Marks told Empire Sports Media that the Trail Blazers are not trading him.

Potential Beal package

If Beal and the Wizards decide to part ways, the asking price would be in the James Harden trade neighborhood.

When asked what the Wizards could seek from the Knicks in exchange for their long-time cornerstone, Marks told Empire Sports Media that it would require giving up both the first-round picks from Dallas (2021 unprotected, 2023 top-10 protected), a minimum of two unprotected first-round picks, pick swaps and sophomore swingman RJ Barrett. 

A package like that could still leave the Knicks in a good position to contend in the East with a core of Beal, Randle, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley, all of whom are still under 30 years old and plenty of cap space to chase another star.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Did the New York Knicks ‘bench’ RJ Barrett against Orlando?

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

If you were looking objectively at New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett’s stats, he has taken a developmental leap this year compared to his rookie season in 2020.

Over 56 games last year, he averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. He also earned a .402  field goal percentage and hit  .320 from downtown. This year, however, he’s averaging 16.5 points over 33.7 minutes, with a .428 field goal percentage.

Pair that with 3.16 assists and 6.2 total rebounds per game, and you can conclude he’s playing at a higher level.

With Barrett averaging about three minutes more per contest this year, he’s gradually taking steps forward and establishing himself as an everyday starter. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t struggle in his own ways, as he was benched against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday evening, playing just 27 minutes. While his minutes have been degrading over the past few days, head coach Tom Thibodeau merely blames it on his rotation and what is working at the moment.

Thibodeau was asked about RJ Barrett’s regressing playing time recently:

“The depth is good. It’s a plus. You get into games like tonight and it’s more you’re just searching. You get in a hole like we were, then you’re trying to find anything that can get you going. The group that was out there got going a little bit. Ideally, you’d like to be playing from the lead. I thought the starters got us off to a decent start. The defense wasn’t good, but the offense was very good to start the game.’’

Thibodeau’s explanation essentially means that once the next got into a big hall, he was trying to find different combinations that would put points on the board with solid defense. Clearly, Barrett wasn’t part of the equation, as he finished the night with 15 points in a -3 +/-.

Veteran Julius Randle took it upon himself to field the blame, indicating he could do a better job of keeping him confident. That is the leadership that Randle has taken on this team. It’s important to know that Barrett is still young at 20 years old and finding his way in the NBA. It seems as if the youngsters on the squad struggled in the loss, with Immanuel Quickley hitting on just 1-of-12 shots and going 0-of-4 from three-point land.

“I can definitely do a better job of helping him out, keeping his confidence up,’’ Julius Randle said of Barrett. “He’s always stays confident. It’s one of those things got to keep learning, keep growing, see what you can do better. I’ll help him out as well. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.’’

Knicks fall under Magic’s spell in tough loss

Terrence Ross outscored the entire New York Knicks‘ bench as the Orlando Magic rolled to a convincing 107-89 victory on Wednesday night.

Ross fired 18 of his season-high 30 points, presiding over Magic’s breakaway from a tight first half.

The Knicks shot 54 percent in the opening half and led by as many as 11 behind Julius Randle’s 17 points. But the Magic tightened their defense and started packing the paint.

“It was really the second quarter. Normally, our bench is a big plus for us, and we lost an 11-point quickly. We didn’t challenge shots the way we should have, and they got going,” Thibodeau said.

The spark Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley usually provided off the bench went missing. The duo typified the Knicks’ offensive woes, shooting a combined 2-for-22 from the field.

If there is one man in the NBA who can figure out Tom Thibodeau, it’s Magic’s coach Steve Clifford. Both coaches spent years together from the Knicks to the Houston Rockets as assistant coaches under Jeff Van Gundy.

Orlando outscored New York, 30-14, in the third quarter and turned a 53-56 halftime deficit into a 13-point lead.

Led by Ross, who was all over the court with six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks, the Magic’s bench outscored their Knicks’ counterpart, 42-26.

The loss snapped the Knicks’ three-game winning streak and prevented them from reaching .500. They fell to 14-16 with six games left before the All-Star break.

The Knicks’ offense turned stagnant as they ran into a maze of errors and forced shots. The Magic’s defense held the Knicks to only 26 percent from the field and six assists in the second half.

Randle outplayed Nikola Vucevic in a battle of All-Star candidates but drew little help.

Vucevic got his usual double-double (16 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists) but only shot 8-for-24 from the field.

Randle picked up from where he left off and dropped 13 points in the opening quarter as the Knicks seized a 30-19 lead. Then the Magic zeroed in on him on defense.

Despite that, Randle still came away with 25 points on 11-of-19 field goals, seven rebounds, and three assists.

RJ Barrett and Elfrid Payton were the only other Knicks in double figures with 15 and 13 points, respectively. But they spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench.

“We’re such in a hole, and you want to find a way out. Those guys (second unit) started to make a run, and so that’s basically it,” Thibodeau explained.

A back-to-back three-pointer from Alec Burks brought the Knicks within 10.

But it proved to be their last gallant stand.

Ross, Evan Fournier, and Vucevic put the game away with a 7-0 answer.

The Knicks will have three days to recover.

Thibodeau will face his old team, Minnesota Timberwolves, for the first time since his unceremonious firing in 2019.

The Knicks, though, earned an extra day of rest after their Saturday matinee game against the San Antonio Spurs was postponed after four Spurs tested positive for COVID-19.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks suffer another Heat-breaker on Derrick Rose’s debut

Derrick Rose has hit seven game-winners in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime throughout his NBA career.

But on Rose’s first game back as a Knick, Tom Thibodeau chose not to put him in a tight spot.

Instead, Thibodeau went to his youngest player for the last shot.

The 20-year old RJ Barrett missed on a last-second drive as the Miami Heat survived with another gut-wrenching win, 98-96, over the New York Knicks Tuesday night.

“He just got here. So we’re still working our way through things,” Thibodeau said, referring to Rose. “I just felt we needed people who know what we’re doing. I didn’t want to put him in a situation like that.”

With the Knicks’ best closer on the bench, the Heat pounced on the opportunity to hammer out their second straight close win against the Knicks in three days.

Tyler Herro drained a clutch triple while Jimmy Butler hit a split at the line that spoiled the third reunion of his former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves coach and teammate.

But despite the loss, Rose showed plenty of promise even without the benefit of practice with his new teammates.

He relied on his familiarity with Thibodeau’s schemes and played with his instincts.

For a good stretch, Rose showed flashes of his former elite form that made him the league’s youngest MVP 10 years ago.

The 32-year old Rose, along with rookie sensation Immanuel Quickley, came off the bench with 3:27 left in the first quarter.

Rose quickly made an impact as the Knicks turned a seven-point deficit, 17-24, into a 42-30 lead, bridging the first two quarters.

Rose had 10 first-half points and three assists in under 11 minutes.

But the Heat hit 11 threes in the first half that enabled them to recover and led by two at the break, 57-55.

Elfrid Payton, perhaps feeling the heat with Rose’s arrival, had a strong start with 12 points and three assists in the opening half.

The Knicks would grab another 10-point lead in the second half. But the Heat thrived on the free throw line then made their shots when it mattered to pull off the come-from-behind win.

Miami sank 32 of 39 foul shots while New York only had a total of 16 free throws. Butler and Bam Adebayo combined to shoot 26 of 31 at the stripes for the Heat.

Payton led the Knicks with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Rose finished with 14 points in 20 minutes. He left the game for good with 4:51 left and the tightly-fought match tied at 88-all.

Julius Randle was out-of-sync, bleeding for 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting. His late-game blunder was costly.

After Quickley answered Herro’s triple with a floater to cut the Heat’s lead to one, 97-96, the Knicks had several chances to steal the game.

Reggie Bullock grabbed a Kelly Olynyk miss with 22.6 seconds that set up a bizarre ending for the Knicks.

Instead of milking the clock for the last shot, Randle opted for a tough fadeaway with still 10.2 seconds left.

Butler did an excellent acting job to sell a foul in the mad scramble for the ball. But he could only hit a split off his free throws that gave the Knicks one more shot in the final 6.2 seconds.

Barrett wound up with 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a big endgame lesson that Thibodeau hoped would toughen him up.

Rose could have written a perfect ending to his fairy tale return to the Knicks, but Thibodeau held him back.

Not tonight.

Perhaps Thibodeau is reserving those Rose’s clutch shots when the stakes will be higher.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Should the New York Knicks be concerned about RJ Barrett’s shooting woes?

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

After seven tumultuous seasons filled with uncertainty and little to no sign of resolution in sight, the New York Knicks, for the first time in a long time, have shown a small glimpse of promise and hope in 2021.

Surmounting already nine wins in 22 games played, new Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive expertise and experience has spearheaded this young Knicks team into the next pivotal step of growth and development that they so desperately needed.

Allowing only 104.2 points per game to their opponents, the Knicks currently have the best defense in the NBA and have founded their success on locking down their opposition, holding teams to a shooting average of 43.3% from the field as well as only 32% from behind the arc (ESPN).  One of the oldest philosophies in sports is “defense wins games,” and Thibodeau’s Knicks have proven first hand at how successful that approach can be.

However, on the other hand, the Knicks have not nearly had the same luck or success offensively.  Sitting dead last in the league in points scored with 102.2 per game, the Knicks are also posting one of the worst field goal percentages in the league as well (44.5%) and have scored under 90 points in 5 different games this season (ESPN).  Outside of Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, and Austin Rivers, everyone else on the Knicks is shooting 43% from the field or lower, which is largely why they’ve come up short 13 times this season (ESPN).

That said, the important detail to take note of here is that it’s one thing if you’re only taking an average of about 4-8 shots per game, such as guys like Obi Toppin (4.7 FGA), Kevin Knox (5.5 FGA), and Reggie Bullock (8.1 FGA) [ESPN]. But when you have your number two scoring threat in RJ Barrett, who takes an average of 15.5 shots per game (the second-most on the Knicks, mind you) but is only shooting 43% from the field along with 27.4% from 3-PT range, it’s a completely different ballgame that can have a far greater impact on your team’s offensive success, and it’s showed with the Knicks (ESPN).

In addition, Randle is also carrying a large load of the playmaking responsibility the Knicks need on offense, and as a result, isn’t constantly leading the charge with their scoring duties.  In fact, Randle only averages 16.5 shots per game, which in comparison to Barrett, is not much of a difference from the shooting attempts he musters per game (ESPN).

Ultimately, Barrett’s scoring ability remains to be the biggest reason why the Knicks drafted him third overall in 2019, and as a result, they have become quite dependent on his offensive production.  But with an on and off start to his second season where he’s only averaging a solid 17.8 points per game, the magnitude of this concern continues to increase each day that goes by, and it’s becoming somewhat unclear whether this will change at all this year.

Although he’s still very young, Barrett had 56 games under his belt as a rookie along with a lengthy offseason that granted him plenty of time to work on his shot (ESPN).  Despite the noticeable progress he’s achieved this season, the next crucial step for Barrett is consistency.  And whether he can deliver on that for the Knicks has become a dawning concern.

But all things considered, it seems that the lingering uncertainty with Barrett’s shooting woes appears to be a short-lived issue for now.  In fact, over the month of January, Barrett presented the Knicks with encouraging signs of improvement and particularly with his shooting efficiency.  Knocking down 45.9% of his shots from the field along with a much better 35.1% from behind the arc, Barrett averaged 18.8 ppg over a 16-game stretch during the month of January, demonstrating just how big of a difference a little progress can make (ESPN).

However, what continues to be the ever-present factor that will develop Barrett into the scorer the Knicks need, is the growth of his confidence and experience in the NBA.  Coming out of high school and college where he was in a league of his own and had the ease of playing against opponents that were around his age and size, the NBA, on the other hand, is home to the best players and defenders in the world and has presented Barrett with a much bigger learning curve.

Back in high school and college, Barrett had the liberty of implementing his creativity and style of play at will, but in the NBA, he’s frequently caught himself forcing shots and has struggled to find and create high percentage shooting opportunities.  This really showed over the course of his rookie season, but throughout the month of January, has significantly improved.  His progress might not be fast enough for some, and that’s understandable.  But because Barrett is only 20 years old, the development he’s mustered so far is a good sign of what’s to come in the near future.

In a MSG Network press conference interview following their victory against the Cavaliers last Friday, Thibodeau had high praise for Barrett’s play this season, expressing just how much he brings to the table:

“I think he’s playing with a lot of poise. From the beginning of the season, the rebounding and the playmaking has been there.  He’s getting to his spots, he’s making the right reads, whether he should shoot or pass, and he can score so many different ways.  He can score in transition, he can score in the pick n’ roll, he scores off the handoff, he can score in the post, and he can score off catch and shoot.  But also, to put pressure on the defense, force the defense to collapse, and then make the right read and open up the three-point game for us.  So I really like the way he’s playing.  He’s playing very well off people, he’s playing very unselfishly, and he’s playing both sides of the ball.”

When all is said done, it’s important to keep in mind that Barrett has still so much to learn and experience in the NBA, and to think that he’s going to be shooting lights out by the end of the season, is certainly a stretch.  In other words, will Barrett finish the year with a 45% field goal percentage or higher? Most likely not.  But consistency like that is a work in progress and is closely linked to one’s ability to synchronize their developing talent with their understanding of the league and level of competition they face on a regular basis.  Essentially, it can be difficult to build consistency when you’re still so new to your environment, and that acclimating process requires time.  Although Barrett might not be able to muster much more than 44% from the field this year, the fact that it’s up over his 40% from last season is growth nonetheless that he will continue to build on.  Though the lack of consistency might be worrisome, the Knicks (as Thibodeau confidently reassured) have nothing to be concerned about regarding RJ Barrett’s shooting and scoring ability.

New York Knicks: RJ Barrett’s offensive versatility is causing problems for opponents

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

New York Knicks’ former third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is emerging as one of the tougher players on the young Roster. RJ Barrett’s ability to distribute and score in a variety of ways is valuable for Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks. Reid Goldsmith, the managing editor for The Knicks Wall, tweets about RJ Barrett’s performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers during a blowout victory inside an empty Madison Square Garden. RJ Barrett’s 24-points was described as “light” by The Knicks Wall in the following tweet.

Some fans are considering RJ Barrett a hero due to his recent play. The 20-year old has improved this season on both ends of the court. Even Tom Thibodeau couldn’t hold back from giving Barrett praise for his solid play. Tom Thibodeau is running the offense through Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. This was anticipated through an article shared on Twitter last July after Tom Thibodeau’s hiring.

Intensity and toughness is what Tom Thibodeau’s teams are all about. Former Duke star Barrett knows all about those characteristics due to being the son of a former international professional basketball player Rowan Barrett Sr. The RJ Barrett and Tom Thibodeau pairing is looking like a very good match. Both have the desire and thirst for winning basketball in New York City.

Overall, the young Knicks roster is on the cusps of becoming a competitive team due to a winning head coach and hard-working personnel. The Knicks already have an identity, as they currently lead the NBA in least points scored against and opponent three-point shooting percentages. The Knicks are still improving on both ends of the court, therefore, the overall upside is still intriguing for not only this year but for the next 2-3 years as well.

Knicks put up gallant stand against Clippers

Moral victories don’t count.

But the New York Knicks deserved a point in their rebuilding, earning respect from one of the league’s elite teams.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett played like true All-Stars while rookie Immanuel Quickley continued his stellar rise.

But when push came to shove, the Los Angeles Clippers’ bona fide All-Stars put the game away to hammer down a 129-115 victory Sunday at the Madison Square Garden.

Kawhi Leonard put the clamps on the red-hot Quickley in the final seven minutes and hit big buckets on the other end as the Clippers earned their 11th win in their last 10 games the hard way.

The Knicks gamely engaged the Clippers in a surprise show of firepower.

It proved to be their undoing.

Entering the game as the league’s no.1 in points allowed (102.7), the Knicks allowed the Clippers to breach the century mark in just three quarters.

Quickley kept them afloat as he put on another electrifying fourth-quarter performance. The rookie guard’s personal 8-0 run brought the Knicks within two, 105-103, with under eight minutes left.

That’s when Leonard said enough is enough.

Leonard, one of the game’s top defenders, limited Quickley to a single free throw the rest of the way. The Clippers quickly restored a double-digit lead, 114-103, with a 9-0 answer behind their All-Stars, Leonard and Paul George.

Leonard finished with 28 points on 15 shots while George added 17 as three more other Clippers scored in double-figure.

The Knicks tried to keep up behind the trio of Randle, Barrett, and Quickley.

Randle continued to push for an All-Star selection finishing with his 14th double-double of the season. He had 12 of his 27 points in the opening quarter, with the Knicks grabbing a 27-20 lead before they settled for a 31-29 count.

The rejuvenated Knicks’ power forward hit 9-of-18 shots, added 12 rebounds and five assists.

Meanwhile, Barrett delivered another strong shooting performance with 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and took on the challenge to guard Leonard.

Quickley paid homage to his idol, Lou Williams when he entered the court. Then he proceeded to outplay arguably the best sixth man in the league history.

With his signature floaters and timely three-pointers, Quickley scored 25 points in 27 minutes off the bench. Williams had only nine in 23 minutes.

No other Knick punched in double-digit scoring as New York’s firepower failed to keep up with the Clippers’ elite offense.

The best three-point shooting team in the league, the visiting Clippers went 17-for-38 that kept the Knicks at bay.

The Knicks will have little time to recover when they travel to Chicago. An intriguing Monday night matchup against the Bulls and their rumored trade target Zach LaVine will keep their hands full.

But before playing on back to back, the Knicks deserved a pat on the back for hanging with one of the best.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks fail to sustain hot start, lose to Jazz

The New York Knicks went hot and cold in Utah, wrapping up their West Coast trip with a disappointing 108-94 loss to the Jazz Tuesday night.

Austin Rivers typified the Knicks’ Jekyll and Hyde performance.

Rivers was on fire in the first half with 25 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting. Then he went scoreless in the second half.

The Knicks appeared to be on their way to an encore of their Jazz massacre at The Garden when they erected a 15-point lead in the second quarter. They even held a 13-point lead at the break.

But it went downhill from there.

Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale picked up the slack with Jazz star Donovan Mitchell struggling to shoot.

Mitchell started the game 0-for-10 before finishing with nine points on 3-for-15 shooting.

But the Jazz drew double-digit scoring from five other players led by O’Neale and Conley.

Conley fired 14 of his 19 points in the third quarter, while O’Neale had nine of his 20 in the fourth quarter to seal the Knicks’ fate.

Rivers’ hot hands went cold after being hit with his third foul late in the second quarter. He was never the same again.

“Yeah, I just felt like in that stretch with the way it was going offensively, I thought we would do what we did, but it did cross my mind to leave him out there,” Tom Thibodeau replied when asked if he felt he should’ve gambled with Rivers despite nursing three fouls.

Rivers missed his four shots in the second half and had a mental lapse, fouling Conley late in the third quarter when he thought the Knicks still had a foul to give.

Conley’s two free throws sliced the Knicks’ lead to just a single point heading into the final quarter.

The Jazz took over from there.

A 10-0 start was all they needed to suck the life out of the weary Knicks, who were playing the tail end of a four-game road trip.

The Knicks finished the trip losing three straight after an impressive win against Golden State Warriors. They slid outside the top eight in the East with an 8-11 win-loss record.

Meanwhile, the Jazz have extended their league’s hottest win streak to nine, which started, ironically, after losing to the Knicks in New York in January.

Rudy Gobert was also instrumental in the Jazz victory with a monster performance (18 points, 19 rebounds, and four blocks).

Filipino-American guard Jordan Clarkson continued making an early case for the Sixth Man of the Year with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals off the bench for the Jazz.

RJ Barrett rebounded from his single-digit performance in a loss to Portland with 17 points on 7-11 (3-for-3 from 3) shooting from the field. Julius Randle had a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists), but the rest of the Knicks struggled.

Immanuel Quickley, who sizzled for a career-high 31 points against the Trail Blazers, had his worst shooting night going 1-for-11 for six points.

The Knicks will head home and host the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

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