The streak is over. Unexpectedly.
Playing like they were hungover from their double-overtime thriller two nights earlier, the Knicks collapsed Tuesday night against the lowly Hornets, faltering as an offense down the stretch of a 112-105 loss at MSG.
The Knicks (39-28) had just eight points in the final eight minutes, sending a stunned Garden crowd to the silent exits.
“I just ran out of gas,” said Julius Randle, who was visibly exhausted in the fourth quarter.
The Hornets (21-46) had lost three straight and were losing their best player, the injured LaMelo Ball, but the Knicks just did what they had to do while blowing a 16-point halftime lead.
He snapped New York’s winning streak at nine, or one less than its longest streak in the past decade.
“I think all games are cheating,” Tom Thibodeau said. “But it’s also human nature. You lower your guard a little, you’re going to slip. This league is too good.”
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Randle, newly named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, shot a measly 5-for-17 with 16 points. He seemed exhausted. Immanuel Quickley was also low on energy while filling in for the injured Jalen Brunson, missing 11 of his 16 attempts. The Knicks made 40 3-pointers but made just 27.5%.
Josh Hart, who lost his first game as a member of the Knicks, dropped the tired excuse.
“It’s a reality, but the reality is also that our job is to play basketball,” Hart said. “There are people who get up at 6 am in 12-hour shifts. Those guys are tired. For us, we’re playing a game and we’re lucky enough to play a game like this, but we have to keep it in perspective.
“So we need to play lively and energetic every time we step on the pitch. That’s the biggest. I don’t think we can blame this on fatigue.”
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On Tuesday, the Knicks took control late in the first half, using a 23-11 run to maintain their 16-point lead at halftime. Quentin Grimes capped the half with a breakaway reverse layup with 0.4 seconds remaining, bringing the crowd to the loudest cheers of the night.
Then it all went downhill. The Knicks’ lead was cut to 2 early in the fourth quarter. Kelly Oubre Jr., Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward all scored at least 23 points for the Hornets. RJ Barrett led the Knicks with 27 points.
Before the game, Thibodeau announced that Brunson would sit down with a sore foot, the same injury that sidelined the point guard in Sunday’s double-overtime thriller over the Celtics. Thibodeau, who is Bill Belichick-ian in his lack of injury updates, did not provide a schedule, but did say Brunson will travel with the team on the Western Conference road trip.
“We love our depth. The next guy, go in there and do it,” Thibodeau said. “We have more than enough to win.”
Quickley, who scored a career-high 38 points against the Celtics, started again at point guard Tuesday but couldn’t duplicate the magic. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Brunson’s absence creates a ripple effect that negatively impacts the Knicks.
“I think they are very different because you don’t have both,” Clifford said. “It’s not one or the other. Forty-eight minutes is a long time. Thus, it affects its depth. He was great the other night (in Boston). He started off good. And then the end of the game and overtime. He had that stretch where he scored seven points in a row and he’s played like that in stretches like that before. I would say that Jalen to train against is obviously one of the two types that you focus on. But certainly Quickley is capable of a big night and they have other guys as well.
The Knicks now have a 3-3 record without Brunson, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month.