Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Antetokounmpo and Middleton stole the show
Defense has been the New York Knicks forte early this season. Against the Milwaukee Bucks, New York showed flashes of their improved defense, but it wasn’t enough to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton.
Over the summer, Antetokounmpo bulked up, and it showed against the Knicks. In the paint, Antetokounmpo played like he was auditioning to play the role of Hulk in the Avengers. Recently, he has improved his outside game, but his bread and butter is domination in the paint. It didn’t matter who was guarding him, Antetokounmpo brushed Knicks players aside using his sheer strength. He finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds. Nine of his fifteen rebounds were offensive boards.
Middleton has earned the reputation of a 3-and-D type of player during his time in Milwaukee. Tonight, he made sure to serve New York an extra dose of threes. Twenty-one of Middleton’s 30 points came from long range, and he nailed some big shots late to guide Milwaukee to a 124-113 victory at Fiserv Forum.
Another Bucks player that had a good game was Eric Bledsoe. He contributed with 16 points and 13 assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. led New York with 24 points on 10-of-23 shooting. Trey Burke had a breakout game. He finished with 19 points. Enes Kanter also contributed with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Knicks vs. Bucks was a game of runs
Throughout the game, every time New York pushed, Milwaukee pulled. New York had multiple attempts to overtake Milwaukee but couldn’t accomplish the feat. In the first half of the second quarter, both teams were exchanging baskets. Milwaukee was able to hang on to a slight four-to-eight point advantage until Middleton exploded. After Burke’s basket, midway through the quarter, Middleton unleashed a barrage of three straight three-pointers to increase Milwaukee’s lead to fifteen. At halftime, Milwaukee led 71-52.
In seasons past, New York would just lay down and take their impending loss. So far this season, laying down hasn’t been happening on David Fizdale’s watch. New York came out with renewed energy in the third quarter to bite into Milwaukee’s large lead. Burke put the squad on his back and scored 13 points, in the quarter, to help New York cut Milwaukee’s lead to one.
Comebacks have been a staple of the Fizdale led Knicks early in the season. New York outscored Milwaukee 35-17 in the third quarter.
The key moment that killed New York
On several occasions, late in the game, New York had an opportunity to take the lead but failed. With 3:42 left, Hardaway Jr. makes a huge three to tie the game at 110. Bledsoe traveled on the following possession to give New York a chance to take the lead. The ball moved around and landed in the hands of Mario Hezonja. Hezonja rose up from Madison, Wisconsin and shot an ill-advised three that bricked. Brook Lopez made New York pay for Hezonja’s miss with a 3-point play.
Following Lopez’s basket, Hardaway Jr. shot a rushed three from the corner that caught nothing but air. Middleton made sure Hardaway Jr.’s shot wouldn’t go unpunished and nailed a 3-pointer to push New York’s deficit to six. New York couldn’t recover from Hezonja and Hardaway Jr.’s bad shots. Later, Middleton shoved the dagger deeper into New York’s heart with another three to put the game to rest.
Despite the loss, Knicks bench shined
Kevin Knox‘s injury has led to more minutes for Hezonja and Damyean Dotson. Both players didn’t disappoint against the Bucks. Hezonja shot 50% from the field and finished with 18 points. Dotson was a flamethrower from three. He made 4-of-8 threes and finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds. Overall, the Knicks bench scored 47 points.
New York has yet to learn how to close out games which is understandable. It takes time for a young squad to learn how to push themselves over the top. Hopefully, the young Knicks will learn sooner rather than later.