Many sports teams, both amateur and professional, have no doubt heard the mantra, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” That axiom proved all too literal for the New York Knicks Friday night at State Farm Arena .
New York scored just under 70 percent in the first 24 minutes of their bout against Atlanta, but only managed 19 field goals for the remainder of the game, giving the visiting Hawks a 139-124 win.
Dejounte Murray had 29 points for the Hawks and led a comeback against the Knicks for the second time this season. Backed by 27 by Trae Young, Murray’s efforts have helped the Hawks (24-22) get closer to the Knicks in postseason standings: With their fifth straight win, Atlanta is just a half-game behind the two Knicks for the top- Seed in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament and the Miami Heat for sixth and final automatic playoff spot.
Burdened with a cold second half, the Knicks (25-22) dropped their third straight game. After a 59 percent performance from the field, Friday marked only the fourth time in franchise history that the team shot at least 59 percent and still lost the game (a bittersweet performance not seen since February 2005 against Sacramento ).
Speaking of streaks, Julius Randle failed to make a double-double for the first time in 13 games and missed a rebound despite his 32-point performance. RJ Barrett was not far behind with 23 points and Jalen Brunson added 19 more. Jericho Sims, pushed into the starting line-up for the injured Mitchell Robinson, hit all six of his attempts while Immanuel Quickley went 5-on-5 off the bench.
But in another time-honored sports tradition gone wrong for the Knicks, the rumor has it that defense wins the championship… and the Knicks lost the game. The 56 percent shooting percentage and 139 points were each the second-worst the Knicks have conceded this season, only behind the November 13 disaster against Oklahoma City. Saving the best for last, Atlanta sealed the deal and jumped to a 19 lead with a 37-23 advantage in the fourth quarter.
New York and Atlanta will face off again on February 15. Meanwhile, the Knicks wrap up a busy weekend Sunday night against the Toronto Raptors (6:00 p.m. ET, MSG).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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