Julius Randle was under the basket with the ball in his hands. But instead of cutting the Knicks’ four-point deficit to two with what felt like a layup and 45 seconds remaining, the ball slid past the rim.
“It just slid off,” Randle said.
So did the Knicks’ chances of extending their NBA-leading winning streak to nine.
It was a symbol of the night for Randle and his teammates. They were in position, but couldn’t finish off the previously skidding Raptors. Toronto snapped a six-game losing streak thanks to Pascal Siakam’s scintillating, career-best 52-point performance and a mostly error-free night, handing the Knicks their first loss since the first Saturday in December. , 113-106, on a disappointing Garden Wednesday night.
The Knicks (18-14), especially standout point guard Jalen BrunsonThey weren’t sharp. They were outworked most of the night, pummeled deep on the offensive glass, 16-9. They had a minus-12 turnover differential and were outscored 12-4 in the final 3:21 after briefly taking the lead.
“Given the way I played, I feel terrible,” said the always-responsible Brunson, who committed five of the Knicks’ 17 turnovers and managed just seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. “It’s unacceptable of me.”
Randle and RJ Barrett each scored 30 for the Knicks, who were without Quentin Grimes (sprained right ankle). Immanuel Quickley filled in well, scoring 20 points and making six 3-pointers. Down almost all the way, and by as much as 11 in the fourth quarter, the Knicks took the lead briefly on a Barrett jab with 3:21 to go.
They had a chance to extend the lead, but Quickley traveled and the Raptors (14-18) grabbed three offensive rebounds at the other end, leading to Siakam’s 2 of 16 free throws on 18 attempts. Fred VanVleet (28 points) then hit a transition 3-pointer, extending the lead to four with 1:35 to play.
“They sure came out desperate tonight,” Barrett said.
Referring specifically to the Raptors’ ability to force turnovers and break offensive glass, Randle said: “I’ll leave it up to us. We knew he was coming and we just didn’t execute, so that’s up to us. That depends on the players, on the team”.
During the winning streak, the Knicks relied heavily on their improved defense, holding five different opponents to under 100 points. Siakam had more than half of that alone, getting away with every defender the Knicks threw at him, from Randle to centers Mitchell Robinson to Jericho Sims. He heated up early, scored 26 points at halftime, and never really cooled down.
“He’s a great player,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought we were too spread out in the first half. The guy can take shots, but the free kicks, I want to take a look at them, see what we can do better there.”
There was disappointment at the end of the winning streak, but optimism about what the Knicks accomplished, the belief that those eight straight wins demonstrated the team’s potential. Even on a night when a lot went wrong, from the absence of Grimes to turnovers to defensive glass issues, the Knicks were there in the end. Now, they want to start a new streak.
“We learned what we are capable of,” Brunson said. “We just have to keep going.”