Knicks suffer tough loss to Timberwolves to fall below .500

Kemba Walker’s latest return to the Knicks’ lineup started quietly Tuesday night, but he and his teammates had the Garden rocking for much of the second half.

Another home game only resulted in more buzzkill and heartbreak for the Knicks and their fans, however, as Julius Randle missed a late free throw, Evan Fournier had a shot blocked on the penultimate possession and Alec Burks clanked a 3-pointer as time expired in a crushing 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves.

“That’s a tough loss, especially as the guy that missed the game-tying shot. That’s the type of game that keeps you up at night,” Fournier said. “You kinda feel like s–t in the morning afterwards, but that’s the league we’re in. … For sure, it’s very frustrating.”

Walker had buried three monstrous 3-pointers earlier in the fourth quarter and netted 17 of his 19 points after halftime in his first appearance since Dec. 29 as the Knicks fought back from a 12-point deficit in the second half.

Fournier connected on five treys and finished with 27 points, Randle recorded 21 points with nine assists and RJ Barrett scored 17 for the Knicks, who couldn’t fully bounce back from Monday’s eyesore loss to the Hornets in slipping back under .500 at 22-23.

Karl-Anthony Towns slams one home during the Knicks’ 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“I’m definitely a little disappointed that we didn’t win, my first game back in a while. Definitely wanted to win,” Walker said. “But we’ve got to keep grinding it out. This league is hard, man, it’s hard to win games in this league, super hard. No matter who you’re playing.”

Anthony Edwards scored 21 points and Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 20 — most notably a go-ahead traditional three-point play with 29.3 seconds remaining — for the Timberwolves (22-22).

“Bing-bong that,” Towns declared to conclude his postgame press conference, referring to the Knicks’ subway chime rallying cry.

Kemba Walker, who scored 19 points in his return to the lineup, shoots a layup past Karl-Anthony Towns during the Knicks' 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves.
Kemba Walker, who scored 19 points in his return to the lineup, shoots a layup past Karl-Anthony Towns during the Knicks’ 112-110 loss to the Timberwolves.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Walker drew a nice ovation after burying his first shot in the opening minutes of the game, but those represented his only two points of the first half. The Knicks missed seven of their first eight attempts from 3-point range and shot just 4-for-15 from long distance, while committing 13 turnovers through two quarters.

“It was us, mostly. It was us,” Fournier said. “Don’t get me wrong, they did things to rush us and not execute as well. … That was huge for us, that’s why we went down.”

The Knicks trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, but Randle sandwiched two jumpers in a 7-0 spurt to take a 98-93 lead early in the fourth. Walker rattled in a 3 from the right side, another from the top of the key and then drilled a third within two minutes of each other for a 107-102 game with 3:41 left on the clock.

The Timberwolves shaved the Knicks’ cushion to one in the closing minute, however, with Barrett committing two turnovers and Fournier another in the final three minutes. Barrett’s second giveaway led to Minnesota grabbing back a 111-109 lead at the other end. Towns drove the left side of the lane and converted a three-point play after he was fouled by Randle — who was forced to play center down the stretch after Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson both fouled out.

“We had some tough calls go against us, but we just can’t put ourselves in a position like that where the refs are a factor,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And we had some costly turnovers in the last two minutes. They’re trailing and they’re gambling for the ball … and so you’ve got to be strong and understand what’s going on in the game and how it’s being officiated. The intensity of the fourth quarter is different than the first three quarters and we have to understand that.”

Five seconds later, Randle missed the first of two free throws before Burks’ eventual heave at the buzzer bounced off the rim.

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