Karl-Anthony Towns’ driving lay up and foul was the eventual game deciding play, but the Knicks shot themselves in the foot down the stretch as they let one slip away in a 112-110 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden last night.
Evan Fournier was the Knicks’ best player as he scored a game high 27 points on 10 of 17 shooting including 5 of 10 from three.
Turnovers, missed free throws and crucial mistakes down the stretch proved to be the Knicks’ downfall as they suffered their second straight defeat in less than 36 hours.
“We had some costly turnovers in the last two minutes,” a somber coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “They’re trailing, they’re gonna gamble for the ball, you gotta protect the ball.”
Kemba Walker, who returned to the lineup after missing nine games, hit a three pointer with 3:41 left to give the Knicks a 107-102 lead but they would not hit another field goal for the remainder of the game.
With the Knicks leading 107-105, R.J. Barrett grabbed Walker’s miss and was fouled but he only hit one of two to make it a three point game.
It was a 109-108 Knicks lead with 1:25 remaining when Barrett committed his 7th turnover, an awful cross court pass that was picked off by Minnesota rookie Anthony Edwards. The Knicks got the ball back after a Timberwolves’ miss but Barrett’s lay up attempt by blocked by Minnesota’s D’Angelo Russell.
The Timberwolves called time out and set up a play for Towns, who was able to muscle his way past a smaller Julius Randle for the go ahead bucket and a foul.
Randle was playing Towns because both Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson had fouled out, so coach Tom Thibodeau had to go with a smaller lineup. The refs were calling it close but the Knicks kept committing some really silly fouls.
“Sometimes you have to adjust to how the game is being called,” Thibodeau said. “We had some tough calls go against us. We just can’t put ourselves in a position like that where the referees are a factor like that.”
The Knicks appeared to be out of sync with the smaller lineup. Fournier attributed some of their mistakes down the stretch to players being out of position. “We had four guards so we had either myself, R.J. or A.B. (Alec Burks) playing four, which we never do,” Fournier said after the game. “When you’re playing a position that you never did, it can get a little tricky but coach is right, we have to do a better job with the ball. Our execution could’ve been better down the stretch.”
Towns completed the three point play to give Minnesota a 111-109 lead. Randle drew a foul with 24.3 left and was at the line with a chance to tie, but the Knicks woes at the foul line came back to haunt them once again. Randle made one of two to make it a one point deficit.
For a second straight game, the Knicks were poor at the foul line. On Monday, the Knicks missed 10 free throws. In this one, they were 24 of 33. When you lose by just two, those missing nine points really stand out.
Walker fouled Patrick Beverley with 19.2 left and he made one of two for a 112-110 lead. On the final Knicks’ possession, the T-Wolves clamped down on defense and blocked Fournier’s driving lay up.
Alec Burks had a chance to be the hero, but his three pointer missed, sealing an awful night for him where he did not score.
Barrett had one of his worst games of the season. He committed 7 of the Knicks’ 18 turnovers, including that big one down the stretch, and was 6 of 16 shooting for 17 points, a come down from his recent outings.
The Knicks committed 13 turnovers in the first half alone, then cleaned it up in the third but there were five more in the fourth quarter including two big ones in the final two minutes.
Randle played a strong game, particularly in the third quarter when the Knicks outscored the T-Wolves, 40-25 to rally from a ten point halftime deficit.
With the Knicks leading 81-80, Randle would not be denied as he powered his way to the hoop, missed two shot attempts but got both offensive rebounds and drew a foul.
Walker was a spark as he scored 19 points but the Knicks got only 18 points from their bench while Minnesota scored 43 bench points.