In what the franchise prays is not a harbinger, the Knicks initiated the season’s second half in Milwaukee in disastrous form Thursday.
After all the hope garnered from their season’s first half, the Knicks looked unrecognizable as they fell behind by 35 points in the fourth quarter at Fiserv Forum.
The Bucks, blown out by the Knicks in an early-season contest, gained sweet revenge with a 134-101 pounding behind All-Star MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists in 29 minutes). The 134 points were the most allowed by the Knicks this season.
“Obviously disappointed with the result,’’ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We were all out of sorts. I don’t think anyone played particularly well.’’
As Julius Randle goes, so goes the Knicks. And he didn’t go well. Randle admitted afterward he has a history of slow starts after the All-Star break.
Randle, who watched live as “the Greek Freak’’ went 16-for-16 in Sunday’s All-Star Game, had a poor post-break outing. Swarmed by the Bucks’ defense, Randle finished with seven points, shot 3 of 12 and committed five turnovers. He did post six assists, but the league’s leader in minutes looked lethargic.
“I was fine,’’ Randle said of his physical state. “They did collapse. I tried to spray the ball around and make reads. I missed a couple of shots, layups, stuff I make forever, but I’m not too worried, man. From what I remember, last couple of years, first game out of the break, I don’t know why, I’m always sh—y. I’ll get right back to it.’’
Thibodeau felt Randle didn’t make the right reads — something he’s done all season at an All-Star level.
“I think it’s reading the game,’’ Thiboeau said. “The game is going to tell you what shots to take. You can’t predetermine what you’re going to do. You have to understand when you’re the first option and somebody commits and sends a second defender, as a primary scorer you have the responsibility of making the right play.’’
Late in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo swiped Randle’s dribble in the frontcourt and sprinted in for a dunk and a 20-point lead. It was that kind of 2019-20 throwback night for Randle, who looked like he needed another week off.
Randle didn’t think the Antetokounmpo matchup was too much of a burden, but not having point guard Derrick Rose (COVID-19 issues) for a third straight game may have taken a toll.
“I just didn’t play well offensively and they hit shots,’’ Randle said. “I’m not going to make excuses for it. It is what it is. I’m not really trying to balance it out.”
The Knicks fell to .500 at 19-19. They entered the break with a winning record after an 8-3 spree, but seven of those victories came against clubs well below .500.
The Knicks start the season’s second half with four road games — continuing Saturday in Oklahoma City, which beat the Knicks at the Garden in January. Then the Knicks play against the East’s top two teams, visiting Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
Their defense will have to be much more alert. The Knicks had stymied Antetokounmpo early by constructing a wall in the paint and holding him to just two points in the first quarter. But the Bucks got out on the fast break off Knicks miscues to open things up.
“Anytime you commit to one specific area, you’re going to be vulnerable in other areas,’’ Thibodeau said. “But we shouldn’t give up everything, and that’s what we ended up doing. So we didn’t take care of the transition. We didn’t take care of the paint. We didn’t take care of covering the line, and then we didn’t finish our defense with rebounding well. They pretty much got everything they wanted.’’
The Bucks charged ahead 68-51 by halftime, as they lifted their energy midway through the second quarter while the Knicks got sloppy.
The collapse started with pair of bad plays by rookie Obi Toppin. The Knicks’ 2020 lottery pick allowed Antetokounmpo to score over him inside. Then on the other end, Toppin threw a short pass right to Milwaukee’s Donte DiVincenzo, who raced in for a fast-break dunk and ratched up the momentum.
Randle, 1 of 8 in the first half for three points, then lost the handle on a runner, leading to another fast break for DiVincenzo.
This was the first of 35 games in 67 days, as the Knicks try to duplicate their successful first half of the season. Of those games, 23 are against clubs with winning records. The Bucks (23-14) were only the first.
“We got to get right back to it,’’ Randle said. “OKC next. We won’t worry about this one.’’