Alarming Knicks setback sets stage for ‘big game’
9th January 2021

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The end of the Knicks’ winning streak Friday night delivered a reminder of what they need to bring on a nightly basis to have a shot, even when their shots are not falling.

Now they’ll try to correct in time to get back in the win column Sunday against the Nuggets instead of having one loss turn into something bigger.

“Tomorrow’s a big game, man,” Austin Rivers said after practice Saturday. “Just for the fact that we have a back-to-back and we head to Charlotte right after the game. We dropped a game that we felt like we should have won [Friday]. Going into the game, we felt like that’s a team that we should beat. So when you mess up like that, when you mess with the game, the game pays you back. You gotta get back on track.”

The Knicks shot a season-low 35.8 percent in their 101-89 loss to the Thunder on Friday, continuing a trend of rough shooting nights in games they lose. In three of their four losses, the Knicks have shot less than 40 percent from the field — a combined 36.8 percent, as opposed to shooting 50.1 percent in their five wins.

But Friday’s setback went beyond just shots not falling, coach Tom Thibodeau said.

“We started off the game where we had the lead but we didn’t play with the urgency and the toughness that you need to play with when you do get a lead,” Thibodeau said. “We’re a work in progress. We’re striving to be a 48-minute team. If we don’t play hard and with great intensity and share the ball and play unselfishly, it’s going to be tough. I like the resiliency of the team. We gotta have that fight every night. Some nights we may fall short, but we gotta learn from it and get ready for the next day.”

Rivers cited the team’s energy not being in the “best state,” which turned into the Knicks trying to make plays on their own to get back in the game instead of playing together. The ball movement slowed down as they let a tie game at the half turn into a 12-point loss.

After coming back from deficits of six, 15 and 18 points during their three-game winning streak, the Knicks couldn’t climb out of another hole Friday night.

“The biggest thing for us is just effort,” Rivers said. “We have to outwork teams for us to win games. Every game, we gotta come in, give high energy. Then our offense just [has to] get back to driving and kicking, driving and kicking, moving the ball. If you don’t have it, make the next pass. Next man up-type mentality. If we play that way, then we’re pretty hard to beat.”

Without a consistent knockdown shooter from deep — one of their best threats, Alec Burks, has been sidelined by a sprained ankle since the third game of the season — the Knicks don’t have a large margin for error. Julius Randle’s emergence as a star had helped fuel the Knicks during their winning streak, but he got into foul trouble early against the Thunder, which Thibodeau said disrupted his rhythm.

The Knicks will try to rediscover that groove Sunday at the Garden, but it won’t be easy against a Nuggets team that reached the Western Conference finals last summer.

“Just come back with an edge,” Randle said. “The biggest reason we won games is because we fought, we competed and we played hard and played for each other and we played with an edge. Just got to get back to that on Sunday.”

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