There are some obvious areas of the box score to reference when analyzing this loss for the Knicks, but one factor that is not represented on the stat sheet is the most obvious of all: talent deficiency.
This is going to be an issue many nights this season.
Oh sure, we can try to go thread-by-thread over the final possessions of a game that was tied at 110 with 3:42 to go. Just ask the Nets of last season how the script goes for hard-working, overachieving teams that meet the reality of “our best versus your best” in the NBA.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (31 points and 15 rebounds) and Khris Middleton (30 points) took over when it was winning time. A very good Bucks team, which took the Celtics to seven games last year in the first round and looks poised to make a case as one of the top teams in the East this year, closed it out at home. That’s what good teams do.
The Knicks fought back from a 19-point deficit and rallied several times when the Bucks attempted to make knockout punches throughout the game. It’s been the same refrain for three straight tough losses.
“One thing I love about this team,” Enes Kanter said, “we don’t quit.”
They trailed by 13 in the first quarter, trailed by 15 in the second quarter and by 19 at the half. But they answered each deficit with resiliency and a great bench effort that produced 47 points, led by the likes of Mario Hezonja (18 points) and Daymean Dotson (14 points).
To say the Bucks thrive off the three-point shot is like saying Conor McGregor likes to talk. They took 40 in this game — which has been exactly their average three games into the season — and drilled 17 of them. They also grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to get them a ton of extra chances that were, often, back-breaking scores.
But the Knicks manufactured offense off their defense, with 19 points-off-turnovers. They are second in the NBA averaging 23.5 points-off-turnovers through three games this season.
[Coverage Of Knicks-Heat Begins Wednesday At 7 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]
However, it came down to a possession battle in the last three minutes. With the score tied at 110, the Bucks executed on a nice pick-and-roll drive by Middleton, who hit Brook Lopez for an and-one when Kanter switched and Tim Hardaway Jr. was no match for Lopez at the rim. After an ill-advised three by Hezonja on a poor possession, the Bucks pushed the lead to 116-110 when Middleton walked into a three over Kanter. A Bledsoe corner three against a scrambling Knicks defense answered a Kanter tip-in to make it 119-112. Ballgame.
A frustrating finish. So close and yet so far. And head coach David Fizdale knows there’s a lot more of these types of games to come for his young team.
“The suffering you must go through,” he called it, “to be a good basketball team.”
– Fizdale acknowledged a need to reconsider the starting five after yet another slow start put the Knicks down early. He said he may give it one more game before he makes a move and admitted his hesitation is to mess with a bench that is playing very well when they get into the game. The main areas of concern involve Lance Thomas (4 points, 4 rebounds in 18:10) and Frank Ntilikina (5 points, 5 assists in 35 minutes) who are not providing much on offense. Both are in the lineup to provide a defensive presence and versatility, but that impact is not being felt, especially early in games.
If you look from an aerial view, those two positions — small and power forward — are space holders for two missing players who are expected to claim those positions: rookie Kevin Knox and all-star Kristaps Porzingis. The only question that remains is if we will ever get to see them together in the starting lineup this season.
–Knox will be out at least a week, if not two, with an ankle sprain he suffered Saturday night against the Celtics. He was left behind in New York to get treatment on the injury while the team is on the road this week, with a stop in Miami on Wednesday. Knox will be re-evaluated over the weekend to determine when he can return to action. The good news is he isn’t expected to miss a lot of time, but every game he is out is lost time for his development. He was just coming off a nice game (17 points) against Brooklyn and you were looking for him to develop some confidence and consistency to earn his way back into the starting lineup.
–Rookie Mitchell Robinson was a curious DNP-CD against a Bucks team that had a ton of length and dominated the boards. While Noah Vonleh had yet another solid game off the bench (11 points, 5 rebounds in 18:37), Robinson’s size and athleticism could have helped. He may still be dealing with the ankle that he rolled in last Wednesday’s season opener. He missed the Brooklyn game on Friday and played just 9 minutes against the Celtics on Saturday.
–Hardaway Jr. led the team again with 24 points and fouled out after 33:44. He had to work for every point he got tonight, as it took 23 shots to get there and only two free throw attempts. The bigger concern was his -25 in those 34 minutes. The Bucks, who are bigger at every position, attacked him often in pick-and-roll switches and Hardaway struggled with the physicality. You can’t deny that Tim is a battler, but this is still an area of concern for him as he tries to continue to establish himself as an NBA starter.
–Trey Burke, who was crestfallen over his missed free throws at the end of the loss to Boston on Saturday, had his best game of the season so far with 19 points. He scored 13 of them in the third quarter as he shredded Eric Bledsoe on drives to lead an 18-2 run that brought the Knicks back from a huge halftime deficit. But Fizdale opted to leave him on the bench for the bulk of the fourth quarter and Burke managed to play just 22 minutes.
–Hezonja responded to the challenge from Fizdale to be more aggressive and the coach rewarded him with 30 minutes of playing time. Hezonja also seemed determined after a tweet from former Knicks advisor Clarence Gaines, who trashed the former lottery pick’s defense. Hezonja played tough defense against Antetokounmpo in the second half (though he did flop on one play in an attempt to draw a foul) and mainly looked to be a go-to scorer on offense.
–Dotson has been mostly overlooked through the preseason and first two games of the regular season, but Fizdale was telling anyone who would listen that he had to find some minutes for the second-year guard. With the injury to Knox, Dotson saw second-half minutes against the Celtics. Then, when Ron Baker suffered a gash on his forehead as a result of a collision with Vonleh’s elbow, Dotson saw even more playing time. The result was 14 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals in 31:30.
–Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was a candidate for the Knicks job before the team hired Fizdale. Budenholzer, who had been the coach of the Atlanta Hawks, had great interest in the Knicks job. He had permission from Atlanta to interview for the Suns’job but then rescinded his interest. He then worked out a buyout with the Hawks to pursue the Knicks job and after Fizdale was hired, he became the top choice for the Bucks.
Budenholzer specializes in player development — as Hardaway Jr. can attest — but instead of enduring the embryonic stages of a rebuild in New York, he’s inherited a loaded and very deep team that could be tough to beat in the East with Antetokounmpo, who could be the best player in the East. Wally Szcerbiak said in the pregame show that Giannis is the best player in the East. I said Kawhi Leonard is the top player in the East. You also have to include Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Ben Simmons in the conversation. How do you rank them right now?
[Coverage Of Knicks-Heat Begins Wednesday At 7 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]