A pivotal string of hustle plays by the Suns at the end of the third quarter fueled an epic fourth-quarter run downing the Knicks.

Anytime the New York Knicks (37-30) and Phoenix Suns (48-19) get together lately it is a fun one. The Knicks held the advantage a large portion of the game, but the Suns proved to be a cut above, with the Knicks falling to Phoenix 128-105.

This one was a lot closer than the final score suggests. It was starting to feel like déjà vu of Denver. The Knicks, down 12-3 early, had no rhythm on offense and three turnovers. This time Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock jumpstarted a 16-2 Knicks run to storm back and grab a 33-30 lead after one. 

The Knicks maintained the advantage in the second quarter and took a 63-56 lead into the locker room thanks in large part to Elfrid Payton mercifully remaining on the bench after checking out halfway through the first quarter. Derrick Rose was a spark plug once again with 14 first-half points to complement Randle and R.J. Barrett, who combined for 29 points.

Phoenix stormed back with both starting lineups back on the floor. Timely three-pointers by Barrett kept the Suns at bay for most of the period. Then, in an absolutely wild four-second sequence, the Suns scored four points—the final bucket of the quarter coming off a lazy inbound pass by Barrett—to take a 90-88 lead heading to the fourth.

That one hiccup seemed to fuel the Suns for a dominant 38-17 final frame. Like their first meeting in the Garden, the Suns showed they have another gear the Knicks have not yet unlocked. Frustration began to kick in as Gibson picked up a flagrant foul on Chris Paul, and Randle got into it with Jae Crowder. Even Tom Thibodeau knew he had to throw the white flag.

Get Back Up

Tonight was an important test. The Knicks had a few things to prove. First, after getting their asses kicked the previous game, would they carry that over into the next game? Second, could they get revenge on the team that ended their nine-game win streak?

Let’s start with the good. The Suns are no slouches, so for the Knicks to force them to bring their best game yet again shows how much they’ve grown as a team. This was not a blowout until the fourth. The next step in the evolution of this team is actually beating teams like the Suns, but tonight they at least proved a vital skill all good teams possess: moving on after an embarrassing loss.

The second question proved to be too tall a task. For a while, it seemed like the Knicks would get their revenge. Unfortunately, the Suns are deeper and execute better. The Knicks had the lead for most of the game like last time, and like last time, the Suns turned it up a notch in the second half.

TKW Highlight of the Night

Obi Toppin appears to be figuring it all out at the perfect time. Like MSG Network’s Clyde Frazier, I was terrified of what Chris Paul had planned for Toppin when he got the switch. Instead, Obi gave us his best sequence of the season.

Random Notes

  • For yet another road game Julius Randle was serenaded with MVP chants. Good thing no one cares about the Knicks west of the Hudson River, right J.A.?
  • R.J. Barrett has quietly shifted his three-point operation almost exclusively from the corners.
  • I’m starting to feel bad for Elfrid Payton. The second he checked out in the first half the Knicks took over. He is so clearly a poor fit with this team, and it sucks, but Thibodeau is going to have to pull the plug on Payton sooner rather than later.
  • I’m coming to the realization that the thought of Frank Ntilikina is better than the actual Frank Ntilikina. He does play smart, yet he does not do nearly enough in the minimal opportunities he does get to snatch some additional minutes.
  • Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks were dearly missed tonight. Their scoring punch felt like the missing piece in completing an impressive win.
  • The play-in possibility still looms. The Knicks’ magic number for a top-six seed is three with four games to play.

The Knicks will make their final leg of the road trip, with two games in Los Angeles, the first coming against the Clippers for a Mother’s Day matinee at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.


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