Knicks lose to Wolves in a moment that changes everything
NEW YORK — Immanuel Quickley knew he was a split second too late.
With the New York Knicks up two and with only a couple of minutes remaining in a game that had less order than a bouncy castle, Quickley’s man had gotten free. Only for a moment. But on a night like this, a moment is all anyone needed.
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley fielded an inbound pass as Quickley tried his hardest to fight through a screen. He swerved around the large-bodied Rudy Gobert and then his own teammate, Isaiah Hartenstein, who was blocking the way until he finally got to Conley. But by the time he arrived, the vet was already rising to shoot. Quickley stuck a hand in too late, and he fouled Conley on a 3-pointer.
The play spurred an 8-0 run for the Wolves, which helped them eventually close out a victory. But watching a Knicks defender fall behind Conley or any other Minnesota player wasn’t new — even for Quickley, who holds the title for New York’s most-disciplined defender.
Even on a night when Julius Randle couldn’t miss (going for a career-high 57 points), when Josh Hart sped 94 feet for layups, when Hartenstein fired outlet passes off Minnesota’s rare misses to make sure the Knicks could fast break, New York was tardy. And it’s why the team fell 140-134.
“(We were) just a step slow all night and then they just made us pay, hitting 3s,” Quickley said. “They shot like 70 percent from 3 in the first half. Any time they do that, that’s gonna be hard for you to win.”
That isn’t hyperbole. In fact, it’s underselling it.
Minnesota shot 77 percent from deep in the first half. It finished the game at 61 percent from the field and 14-of-24 from long range. Taurean Prince turned into Stephen Curry, going for 35 points on 12-of-13 shooting, including a perfect 8-of-8 from downtown.
It all started — or maybe, more appropriately, it all ended with the Knicks’ second efforts. Once they fell behind a play, as Quickley did on that foul of Conley, they rarely recovered. And it wasn’t just their sixth man who didn’t look like himself. It was nearly everyone.
Mitchell Robinson chased more than one block, which led to layups or dunks for Minnesota. On one play, he tried to swat a floater and gave up rebound positioning, which set up Gobert for a putback. On another, he went after a layup, which opened up the paint for a dump-off and a bucket.
The greatest development in Robinson’s game this season is his defensive maturity. For the most part, he’s consistent from night to night. He’s in a defensive stance from play to play. He doesn’t fly ill-advised after shots like he did when he first came into the league.
In that sense, it was an off night for the anchor of the Knicks’ defense. Then again, it was an off night for most.
“It looked like we were in mud, a step behind on everything,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
And yet, as his teammates trudged through muck, Randle was the one Knick who looked like he was on a slip-and-slide.
His 57 points make for the first time a Knick has gone for 50 since Carmelo Anthony did it in January 2014, when the 10-time All-Star dropped 62 on the Charlotte Bobcats. Randle’s 26 points in the third quarter, which came on 9-of-10 shooting, is a franchise record for scoring in a single period. His eight 3-point makes tie a career best.
Fifty-seven points are the third-most in Knicks history, behind only Anthony’s 62, Bernard King’s 60 and tied with Richie Guerin’s 57.
“It’s a shame to waste a performance like that,” Thibodeau said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
But this is the NBA, where — on any given night — a Prince can morph into a king or Naz Reid can dribble right and hoist up a winding hook shot, as if he’s paying tribute to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and watch it swish in. Sometimes, pros get hot. And sometimes, entire professional teams set themselves ablaze.
The Knicks adjusted at halftime, trying to run the Wolves off the 3-point arc more. Minnesota still splashed in its 3s, even if it didn’t get up many of them.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) March 21, 2023
On a more normal night, when the basketball gods haven’t adjusted the game’s settings to abject chaos for 48 minutes, the Knicks could defend like this and win. Randle scored like he never has before. Jalen Brunson went for an efficient 23 points and 10 assists. He hit big shots down the stretch. They scored 134 points.
And on those more normal nights, the Knicks could still leave Prince open and he may shoot a paltry 75 percent from deep instead of his can’t-miss 100. They could botch a rotation, and the Wolves could fail to find the open man.
But that didn’t happen.
When the Knicks were out of place, the Wolves made them pay, and New York couldn’t survive it.
“We didn’t make them feel us,” Quickley said. “It was free-flowing for them and then once they got going, it was pretty much a wrap. They was making everything.”
(Photo of Immanuel Quickley: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)