Julius Randle was underneath the basket with the ball in his hands. But instead of slicing the Knicks’ four-point deficit to two with what seemed like a gimme layup and 45 seconds remaining, the ball went skidding past the rim.
“It just slipped,” Randle said.
So did the Knicks’ chances of extending their NBA-leading win streak to nine.
It was symbolic of the night for Randle and his teammates. They were in position, but they couldn’t finish off the previously skidding Raptors. Toronto snapped a six-game losing streak behind a brilliant, career-best 52-point performance from Pascal Siakam and a mostly mistake-free night, handing the Knicks their first loss since the first Saturday of December, 113-106, at a disappointed Garden Wednesday night.
The Knicks (18-14), most notably standout point guard Jalen Brunson, were not sharp. They were outworked most of the evening, beaten soundly on the offensive glass, 16-9. They had a minus-12 turnover differential and were outscored 12-4 over the final 3:21 after briefly taking the lead.
“Just given the way I played, I feel terrible,” said the ever-accountable Brunson, who committed five of the Knicks’ 17 turnovers and managed just seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. “It’s unacceptable on my part.”
Randle and RJ Barrett each scored 30 for the Knicks, who were without Quentin Grimes (sprained right ankle). Immanuel Quickley filled in well for him, scoring 20 points and hitting six 3-pointers. Down almost the entire way, and by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, the Knicks briefly went ahead on a Barrett slam with 3:21 to go.
They had a chance to extend the lead, but Quickley traveled and the Raptors (14-18) got three offensive rebounds on the other end, leading to two of Siakam’s 16 made free throws in 18 attempts. Fred VanVleet (28 points) then hit a 3-pointer in transition, extending the lead to four with 1:35 left.
“They came out desperate tonight for sure,” Barrett said.
Referring specifically to the Raptors’ ability to force turnovers and crash the offensive glass, Randle said: “I put it on us. We knew it coming in and we just didn’t execute, so that’s on us. That’s on the players, on the team.”
During the win streak, the Knicks relied heavily on their improved defense, holding five different opponents under 100 points. Siakam had more than half of that on his own, having his way with every defender the Knicks threw at him, from Randle to centers Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims. He got hot early, scoring 26 points by halftime, and never really cooled off.
“He’s a heck of a player,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought we were too spread out in the first half. The guy can make shots, but the free throws, I wanna take a look at that, see what we can do better there.”
There was disappointment that the winning streak came to a close, but optimism over what the Knicks accomplished, a belief that those eight straight wins showed the team’s potential. Even on a night when so much went wrong, from Grimes’ absence to the turnovers and the issues on the defensive glass, the Knicks were right there in the end. Now, they want to start a new streak.
“We learned what we’re capable of,” Brunson said. “We just have to keep going.”