The Knicks couldn’t stop Ricky Rubio and the Suns on home turf despite the return of leading scorer in veteran forward Marcus Morris.
NEW YORK — Hoping to shake off another regularly scheduled beatdown by the Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks (11-31) squared off with the visiting Phoenix Suns (17-24) on Thursday evening, losing 121-98. The Knicks and Suns previously matched up nearly two weeks ago in the desert, where New York, on the first game of their four-game west coast swing, dropped a close contest with Phoenix after giving up 69 second-half points.
This time around the Suns were without second-leading scorer Kelly Oubre Jr., who was inactive and in the NBA’s concussion protocol. Oubre, along with All-Star candidate in shooting guard Devin Booker, destroyed the Knicks on January 3rd, combining to score 67 points. Phoenix had a major boost on Thursday from starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who torched the Knicks, particularly in the second quarter when he spurred on a 12-0 run. New York only partially shaved off that embarrassment to cut the deficit at halftime to six.
Rubio continued his precision passing and orchestrating Phoenix’s offense through the pick-and-roll, hurting the Knicks on miscommunication switching and late rotations. The Suns also punished New York on the fast break—with the Knicks failing to get back on defense in transition, resulting in quick buckets for Monty Williams’ squad. The Suns finished Thursday’s win with 18 fast-break points to the Knicks’ seven.
Rubio finished with a double-double, along with a solid scoring night for the Spanish professional, scoring 25 points and dishing 13 assists in the winning effort. Second-year center Deandre Ayton and Booker combined to score 55 points.
The Knicks were led by Julius Randle, who was badly beaten on the glass by Ayton, scoring 26 points on 11-of-23 from the floor. Now on a two-game losing streak following a quality win at home against the competent Miami Heat, New York faces the dangerous Philadelphia 76ers at the Garden on Saturday.
Marcus Morris Sr. (sore neck) returned on Thursday against the Suns following a five-game absence. The team’s leading scorer, at 19.1 points a game, spent most of the contest passively getting his feet wet at Madison Square Garden. The 31-year-old Morris, a candidate for a deal at the NBA’s trade deadline, swished his first shot attempt back from injury, a three-pointer, but missed his next two shots and generally looked out of sorts, making his money tonight from the charity stripe.
The Knicks have expressed reluctance in trading Morris at the deadline, with a desire to hold out for a talented player they can receive in return instead of dangling the veteran for a future draft pick.
In Morris’ first game back, he finished with 17 points on 4-for-11 from the field, including knocking down seven freebies from the line.
Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett continued to sport a headband, which has coincided with an uptick in productivity since the west coast trip, on Thursday. However, in the Suns win the Duke product and nouveaux fashion icon yielded mixed results.
Barrett left the game in the third quarter after an apparent ankle injury. The third overall pick from the 2019 draft crashed down hard by the Knicks’ stanchion before getting up with the help of his teammates, taking his free throws, and leaving the game for the locker room several possessions later with a sprained right ankle at 4:54 in the third frame. He did not return and finished with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting along with a pair of assists and three rebounds.
Mitchell Robinson Needs to Start
Second-year center Mitchell Robinson was impressive on Thursday—but mostly on the defensive end, where he has shined in conjunction to his highlight dunks and alley-oop slams. Robinson finished the home defeat with three steals and two blocks, diving on the court and getting floor burns in multiple attempts to secure possession. Fellow sophomore big man Deandre Ayton looked at home while facing Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson, while Robinson at least limited the former first-overall pick’s damage from 15 feet out on jumpers.
Robinson’s length and pick-and-roll synergy with third-year guard Frank Ntilikina make it clear he needs to start for the Knicks again after losing the spot early in the season to the veteran Gibson (while David Fizdale was still in charge). In his rookie campaign, Robinson had a similar pattern with starts, later finishing the 2018–19 season with a string of seven consecutive starts. It’s not March yet, but it’s clear Robinson’s impact and the timeline of New York’s developing players would benefit from a permanent starting gig where he can play 25-30 minutes.
Robinson also finished the game scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds, along with only committing two personal fouls.