It’s a shame that it should have been one of the most memorable nights inside Madison Square Garden in years. The Knicks should be able to survive a depleted Timberwolves squad after absorbing a few early earplugs, coming roaring back.
They should be able to hold on to a fourth-quarter lead against a desperate team, once they build in the fourth quarter, they should send a depleted and fully committed crowd home feeling good about their home stretch this season.
Mostly, they should salute Julius Randle for the brightest performance of his career, a 57-point outburst that was the only reason the Knicks weren’t coasting through the entire fourth quarter.
Instead… well, let Jalen Brunson tell you.
“They didn’t lose,” the Knicks point guard said. Then he shook his head.
“But we haven’t lost them.”
Jalen Brunson drives to the basket after a missed shot, but falls during the first half of the New York Knicks’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.Robert Sabo for the NY Post
So instead of going to Miami for a crucial game with the Heat feeling good about a four-game winning streak, the Knicks took one on the chin, 140-134, in a game that should have been played in red and white. they should include blue ball and maybe some old ABA programs thrown in with the price of admission.
“We weren’t very good,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, whose tape of this game will likely cause night sweats and shivers.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Randle was good. Randle, in fact, spent much of the night occupying an area few players do. A 26-point third-quarter blowout that brought the Knicks back from a 16-point deficit brought the crowd of 19,812 to their feet and kept them roaring until the end of the quarter.
He looked like he might have eclipsed Carmelo Anthony’s record 62 points.
Turns out he would have to get there to help the Knicks escape.
He didn’t get there. Neither do the Knicks.
“We gave them confidence early,” Randle said, “and we didn’t let it go late in the game.”
These Knicks games have been so amazing since early February that you can sometimes forget how big the margin for error really is. The Knicks in November and December, you might not be surprised to see them give up 79 points in a half, 140 games. But the Timberwolves came out firing, and banging. They made their first six 3s, and shot 78 percent by the half.
At one point, the Knicks were shooting an even 60 percent from the field and trailed by 14. That kind of night.
Julius Randle reacts to a technical foul with seconds left in the second half as the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the New York Knicks 140-134.Robert Sabo for the NY Post
Except that all would be forgiven. They took five-point leads twice in the fourth quarter. They were on the verge of getting one with 3:07 left, but Josh Hart — in what could have been his first layup in 15 games as a Knick — somehow made the save. Minnesota took advantage. Soon, fans who thought they were going to see history started asking for exits.
And the Knicks’ flight to Miami just got a little less fun.
However, there were few mysteries attached. The defense was grotesque for all 48 minutes. It was a poor game for Brunson, who was still good for 23 points and 10 assists, but he quickly threw the blame off his shoulders.
“I was awesome,” he said. “I have to be better.”
He wasn’t alone. It might have been a bad loss, but it wasn’t cryptic. For the last couple of months the Knicks have been bringing in their A games to work with them. Not this time. Not this game. They are better than they were, better than expected. But not enough to show up with half measures against a playoff hopeful.
Miami next. They better be ready to answer the bell, because the Heat knows what to do when you don’t.