The Knicks had them on the ropes.
It was an unexpected turn of events at MSG since the opponent, the Bucks, are the elite of the Eastern Conference and a legitimate title contender. But the scrappy Knicks had the edge late Wednesday with Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out and multiple opportunities to take the lead.
But they blew it.
The Knicks missed two critical free throws in the final minute, and Grayson Allen buried the biggest shot of the night — a 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to break the tie — allowing the Bucks to escape with a 109-103 victory.
Antetokounmpo was dominant with 37 points, seven assists and 13 rebounds, but he committed his sixth foul with one minute remaining and the Bucks leading by two.
Jalen Brunson, who has been great for the Knicks overall but is struggling in clutch moments, then missed a free throw that would’ve given the Knicks a lead with 48 seconds left.
RJ Barrett also missed a potential tying trey in the final 30 seconds. The clutch bucket never arrived and the Knicks (10-12), who hung around longer than expected, left with yet another defeat against a superior opponent.
Robinson dominated the glass with 20 rebounds — including 11 offensive — and Barrett was efficient until the fourth quarter. But they were again missing the closer, just like Sunday’s home defeat to the Grizzlies.
It was a rough start Wednesday for Brunson, who landed awkwardly on the opening possession and retreated to the locker room. Brunson re-emerged later in the first quarter but never found a rhythm, even before missing the pivotal free throw. He entered the night shooting 90% from the line but missed three of his four attempts Wednesday.
The Knicks were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after traveling Tuesday night from Detroit. They’ve fallen to every legitimate star they’ve faced this season — Ja Morant (twice), Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice), Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (split two games), Devin Booker and Steph Curry.
The Knicks are missing that star piece, which, two years ago, led Thibodeau to his most candid comments as New York’s coach. Thibodeau said landing a star was “critical” and the Knicks need to be “aggressive,” which came across as a critique of a front office that just finished a conservative-free offseason.
Fast forward to 2022 and the Knicks still don’t have a star but Thibodeau learned to dance around any topics that are controversial.
“How do you get [stars]? Obviously there’s a lot of different paths to get them,” Thibodeau said Wednesday. “Where Giannis is now is not where Giannis was as a rookie. He’s made himself into that. They’ve done a great job developing him and putting the right players around him as well. So whatever opportunities you do get you obviously look at your own team first and try to develop the players that you have. And you look at free agency, you look at trade possibilities. But you’re always looking to add what your team needs to improve.”
Thibodeau then pivoted to his current roster.
“I like the young guys we do have. I’m looking at what Jalen has done in the fourth quarter. He’s one of the top players in the fourth quarter,” the coach said. “Julius has had big moments for us. RJ has had big moments. So you look at the players you have and you want them to improve. Hopefully they can get there.”