basketball

Knicks’ defense missing again in loss to the Raptors as skid hits four

TORONTO — Mitchell Robinson isn’t paid enough.

The Knicks are lost without their rim-protective defensive anchor.

A strong offensive performance was undone by another defensive no-show and a poor start to the fourth quarter. So far, the Knicks have no answers in the wake of Robinson’s absence with a fractured right thumb, defenseless since he suffered the injury in the first quarter of their loss to the Wizards last Wednesday.

After rallying from an early 17-point deficit, the Knicks watched a late third-quarter three-point lead become a double-digit deficit in the span of 4:10, and they never recovered in a 125-116 setback to the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday night.

“No one’s coming to rescue us,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to rescue ourselves.”


Gary Trent dribbles by Jalen Brunson during the Raptors’ win over the Knicks on Jan. 22.
NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks (25-23) have now lost four straight games, three to opponents with losing records. That’s where Thibodeau’s team is headed if it doesn’t figure out its issues in a hurry. This was supposed to be a soft spot in the Knicks’ schedule before it grows increasingly more difficult, with six of their next seven games against winning teams — an unforgiving stretch that can extend this losing streak.

“We got to weather the storm,” Jalen Brunson said. “Every single game, you’re playing against a great team with great athletes, great coaches. It’s a great battle every night. We just have to figure out how to bounce back quicker.”

For the second time in six days, the disappointing Raptors knocked off the Knicks to improve to 3-1 against them and 18-26 against everyone else this season. In addition to Robinson, the Knicks were also without valuable sixth man Immanuel Quickley (sore left knee). Thibodeau went to Evan Fournier in his place. Quickley was missed at the start of the fourth quarter in which the Raptors (21-27) scored 13 of the first 15 points against the Knicks’ second unit and took command.


Fred VanVleet
Fred VanVleet finished with a team-high 28 points.
AP

“I just think of those moments, certain moments, especially like the start of the fourth, we’ve got to do a better job of being ready out of the gate,” RJ Barrett said.

All five Raptors starters reached double figures, led by Fred VanVleet’s 28 points. Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam each added 24. The Knicks performed well offensively, sinking 18 3-pointers, shooting 49 percent from the field and piling up 30 assists. Barrett scored 30 points and Julius Randle added 23 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists. Brunson had 21.

But the Knicks were sloppy with the ball, committing 16 turnovers (10 by Barrett, Brunson and Randle) that led to 26 Raptors points, most of them runouts in transition. Toronto crushed them on the offensive glass in the form of 25 second-chance points. The Knicks’ bench let them down, and so did what has become a woeful defense.


Julius Randle shoots during the Knicks' loss to the Raptors on Jan.  22.
Julius Randle shoots during the Knicks’ loss to the Raptors on Jan. 22.
GettyImages

“Right now we’re doing some good things, we’re just not doing enough of them,” Thibodeau said. We have to get back to focusing on each possession [being] important.”

For the third straight game, the Knicks allowed at least 35 points in the opening quarter. This time, it was 37. Obviously, they miss Robinson, the team leader in NET rating at plus-8.0. Several players admitted as much. But they did go 4-4 earlier in the season when Robinson missed time with a sprained right knee. He isn’t coming back soon, and the Knicks need to find a way to win without their center.

“It’s on us to be, just better,” Brunson said. “That’s it.”

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