Puzzling Knicks season continues in MSG stinker vs. Hornets

As birthday presents go, this ranked somewhere between the gag cake made of mud instead of chocolate and a used pair of sweat socks. Actually, given the choice, Tom Thibodeau probably would’ve agreed to a mouthful of that faux cake, with those old socks used as napkins.

Anything other than this.

The Knicks lost to the Hornets in a Garden matinee Monday afternoon, 97-87, and it wasn’t exactly the 64th-birthday present that Thibodeau would’ve ordered up. It wasn’t the best way to play leadoff for the NBA’s annual slate of games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It wasn’t anything close to acceptable.

And on this season of puzzles proceeds.

This one was hard to see coming. The Knicks had been playing well lately. They’d won five straight at the Garden. They’d won 10 out of 15 overall, scratching their way back over .500 at 22-21. The Hornets are one of the teams you’d like to believe the Knicks have a lot in common with after the Nets/Bulls/Bucks/Sixers elite quadrant in the East.

And as a bonus, LaMelo Ball sat out with a non-COVID illness.

Alas. The best-laid plans …

“We got in a hole early, and that’s the challenge especially when you play an early game, you need to have a readiness to play,” Thibodeau said. “We didn’t get going, they were difficult to stop, and when we finally got our defense together, it was too late.”

The Knicks lost to the Hornets on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

This was a thorough thrashing. The Hornets led by double figures for each of the game’s final 30 minutes. As per league rules one of the Bridges — Miles this time — did as he was required to do, reminding the Knicks that both he and the Suns’ Mikal (no relation) were available in the 2018 draft when the Knicks opted instead for Kevin Knox at No. 9.

Knox is a Hawk now, so the Knicks are trying to forget that forgettable pick and move on. Miles made it tough, scoring 22 first-quarter points, 38 overall, making 14 of the 20 shots he attempted. It was back-to-back drives from Bridges that gave the Hornets a 45-33 lead at the midway point of the second quarter.

And as the great Warner Wolf used to say: “You could’ve turned off your sets right there.”

“Nobody wants to lose,” said Mitchell Robinson, who had 10 points and six rebounds. “Plus, it’s Thibs’ birthday, so I feel kind of bad.”

These Knicks, right now, are just impossible to figure out. The sold-out Garden crowd was uber-energized for the 1 p.m. start. The Knicks, who’d treated their home court so often this year the way Oscar Madison treated his bedroom, had gotten themselves together in front of the hometown partisans — and at the perfect time, because the schedule is about to take a turn for the toothy very soon.

Tom Thibodeau
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

And then … this.

Forty percent shooting. Ten missed free throws. The Hornets were allowing 115 points a game and most of the afternoon it looked like the Knicks were going to settle in the low-80s. Even without Ball, the Hornets were faster, quicker, more aggressive, more attacking. It was a blightful game. They happen in the NBA.

That doesn’t make a long afternoon feel shorter.

Doesn’t allow a lousy birthday to feel any better.

The Knicks bench looks dejected during a loss to the Hornets on Monday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“We know how good they are, they’re an outstanding offensive team, put constant pressure on you, play for 48 minutes,” Thibodeau said. “Every team in this league can beat you if you aren’t playing as well as you can. You saw that tonight.”

Tuesday night it will be Thibodeau’s old team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have played increasingly better as they’ve become whole. Soon enough it will be a season-defining western swing. We’ve seen traces of what the Knicks can be across the past few weeks; Monday was an example of what else they can be, when things go sideways. The season of puzzles proceeds.

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