For the New York Knicks, a common refrain in their recent games against the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets is these are games they would have lost last season.
After successfully executing down the stretch to extend their winning streak to three games, the Knicks put their recent experience at closing games to the test against the NBA’s lone unbeaten team Friday night with a visit to the Milwaukee Bucks.
New York is off to a 3-1 start after following up its surprising run to the fourth seed in the 72-game season with a disappointing 37-45 finish in coach Tom Thibodeau’s second season. The lone loss was a three-point setback at Memphis in the season opener when the Knicks overcame a 19-point deficit before succumbing in overtime.
After rolling to a 24-point win over Detroit in their home opener, the Knicks earned a 115-102 win over Orlando on Monday and a wild 134-131 overtime triumph over Charlotte on Wednesday. Against Orlando, the Knicks saw their lead sliced to six points with 4:25 left in the game before pulling away, and Wednesday their ability to close things out experienced a major challenge.
New York held a seven-point lead with about seven minutes remaining, trailed by five with about two minutes left and gave up the tying basket with 38.6 seconds left. Then the Knicks got it done in overtime thanks to Jalen Brunson.
“You’ve got to win ugly, for sure,” Brunson said. “When we play good, we play perfect, we’re supposed to win those game. But when we’re not playing our best and we give up leads, how can we respond? Those are signs of good teams.”
Brunson is averaging 20 points in his first four games as a Knick and scored 27 to go along with 13 assists. He scored six points in overtime and was supported by 22 points from RJ Barrett and 17 from Julius Randle, who is shooting 47 percent after dropping to a career-worst 41.1 percent last season.
“We’ve got to win some games like that,” Randle said. “Every game’s not going to be perfect, so for us to come out with a win like that is great.”
Besides being the only team yet to lose, Milwaukee heads into Friday as the only team allowing fewer than 100 points (97.3) and a league-low 40.5 percent shooting percentage through its first three games.
The latest defensive display took place in the final 20-plus minutes of a 110-99 home win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. The Bucks trailed by 12, then outscored Brooklyn 60-37 the rest of the way.
“When someone breaks down, someone helps that guy and another guy helps the guy that helped the guy that got broke down,” Milwaukee forward Bobby Portis said of the defense. “I think we were all on one page.”
Besides the strong start by the defense, star Giannis Antetokounmpo is off to a quick start. He is averaging 36 points after scoring 34 of his 43 in the second half on Wednesday.
“That’s vintage Giannis,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “That’s probably about the best — he’s had a lot of great performances — tonight that second half, he did everything. He was phenomenal.”
Milwaukee is 15-4 in the past 19 meetings. Last year, the Knicks opened the season series with a 113-98 win before Milwaukee won the remaining three games by double digits.
–Field Level Media