The Knicks (39-29) dropped a highly-touted game against the Kings (39-26) in Sacramento by a final score of 117-122.

Despite some late-game heroics from Quentin Grimes and otherwordly rebounding from Josh Hart, the Knicks only shot 26% from three-point range and 42% from the field overall as they lost the first game of their Western Conference road trip.

These two teams matched up against one another is a suffering basketball fans’ dream come true. The Sacramento Kings, after 16 seasons without a playoff appearance, are the three seed in the Western Conference with major depth and an All-Star duo in De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. The Knicks, of course, have been on an upward trajectory over their last 10 games, going 9-1 behind some excellent performances from Julius Randle, Immanuel Quickley, and Jalen Brunson.

Brunson, who had been out for the last two games with a sore left foot, returned to the starting lineup for the first game of their West Coast tour, though his stay was short-lived.

Julius Randle, in true Randle fashion, started the scoring off with a spot-up three-pointer. The Knicks and Kings both looked active on offense and with their passing, but New York let turnovers get the best of them early, leading to an early advantage for Sacramento. The Knicks started to become more stagnant after those turnovers, with more one-and-done possessions on the offensive side of the floor, while their defense was suffering against the Kings’ paint attack. Brunson hit his first three-point shot with just about five minutes left in the first quarter, but the Kings were seemingly able to hit anything they attempted. This was especially true of Sabonis, who finished the first with 11 points. New York was down seven entering the second.

New York had to play much tighter defense in the paint and have their shots fall much more if they wanted to make this a competitive game before the half. The Knicks’ second unit alongside RJ Barrett came right out the gate with solid defense and some pop on offense, with Barrett immediately scoring four points. The bench helped New York creep closer to Sacramento’s lead but were unable to score much more than they had in the first. Josh Hart seemed to be the only Knick with the knack, flying around the floor on both ends to try and keep New York in this one. He and Brunson were willing themselves into the paint since it appeared absolutely no one could score off of a jumper. But, about halfway through the quarter, things got ugly for New York. Malik Monk caught fire from deep, flaming the Knicks anytime Randle was switched onto him. Their lead ballooned to 16, with 38 of their 69 points coming from the paint, at the end of the first half.

The Knicks would have to find a way to win this one without Brunson who was ruled out for the rest of the contest after landing awkwardly on his left foot in the first half. But, like clockwork, the Kings scored in the paint to open the third. The defense was once again letting Kings blow right past them at the rim, uncharacteristic for what has otherwise been a great year of defending this area of the floor. Quentin Grimes, who had a very quiet game on offense in the first half, kept slicing up the Kings’ defense in the paint and managed to help get New York to within 14 early in the period. In addition to Grimes, the Knicks’ offensive rebounding was keeping them alive down the stretch. They remained gritty throughout the third and cut the lead all the way down to seven behind Grimes and Hart playing excellent on both ends of the floor.

New York had been winning the rebounding battle and the free throw battle all evening but had so far been unable to take advantage of either opportunity to score. They really needed to keep pushing the pace to keep Sacramento on their toes and cut the deficit to an even smaller score. And that, they did. With two plays in transition that got them four points from Obi Toppin and Isaiah Hartenstein, as well as a Toppin three-pointer, the Knicks had cut the lead down to one. They were eventually able to tie it up with a Barrett three-point shot, but De’Aaron Fox quickly answered with a three of his own. Fox then proceeded to do what Fox does, which is close games out in clutch time. He was relentlessly attacking New York in the paint and helped Sacramento get their lead back up to seven with about half of the fourth gone by. Just when you kept thinking the Knicks would be able to tie things up again or even regain the lead, an errant pass or a foolish foul, or just a breakdown on defense, would help the Kings stay on top. Despite a nice bounce-back performance from Grimes down to the wire, the Knicks just could never get an advantage over the Kings as Sacramento was able to light the beam at home.

Barrett was their highest scorer with 25 points, along with seven rebounds and two assists. Randle finished up with 23 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Brunson had 19 points, two boards, and two assists before leaving the game. Grimes also had 19 along with a rebound, two assists, a steal, and a block. Hart ended up with nine points, 15 gigantic rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

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