Milwaukee – The Knicks took the best depleted Bucks punch, then stepped off the carpet and knocked out the defending champion.
Inspired by Derrick Rose’s best game of the season, the Knicks led by 21 points and broke their two-game losing streak with a 113-98 victory over the Bucks at the Fiserv Forum.
“It’s great,” said Rose, who was outstanding at scoring a season-high 23 points with four assists and eight rebounds. “Especially when you lose two, it was a big game because it was the next game and the next game was against the champions. This could push us forward in the area we want to be in – consistency.”
The Bucks (4-5) were missing Chris Middleton (Covid-19) and Brooke Lopez, while jogging on the rusty junior holiday, who have played only twice this season. However, this was a solid win as the Knicks went 6-3.
“It says a lot about the character of our team,” Julius Randle said. “It’s a great win for us.”
“We needed that point,” said RJ Barrett, who scored 20 points, his fifth in a row with 20 points or more. “We found ourselves defensive. We kept going, we kept pushing. It was really good to see us locked up defensively.”
Rose became more confident with the overtime load and shot 10 for 18 while committing the offense at 31 minutes.
“We just held on,” Rose said. “We kept working on the game. Everyone kept on the sidelines saying, ‘Chip is in the lead.’”
And Rose and her guys did just that, with the former MVP hitting all kinds of shots, but mostly jumpers.
“They gave me my injections,” Rose said. “They gave me a lot of space. He trusted my shot. He’s the clearest I’ve been. I’m playing with joy. I’m in a great place and I’m in a talented team.”
Walker, after 40 consecutive double-digit games, took his second straight single-digit win — five points in 15 minutes. Walker sat down after playing roughly the first seven minutes of each half – similar to how Tibodo used Elfred Payton late last season.
Thibodeau didn’t want to get into the base faction change, frowning for several seconds when asked about Rose’s brilliance with the increasing minutes.
“Derek played like Derek always played,” Tibodo said. “The numbers say what you are.”
The Knicks made their focus on limiting Giannis Antetokounmpo and allowing freedom at the 3-point streak. It finally worked. Antetokounmpo maintained a relatively calm 25-point lead, but was removed four minutes before the end of the fourth quarter with a double-digit deficit.
That strategy backfired in the first quarter when Grayson Allen, turned into a backup for the Bucks, fired him from a 3-point range as the Knicks left him free — partly to fill in paint and an Antetokounmpo double. Allen, the former Duke’s star, broke out with 14 points in the first quarter, recording a 5-for-6, 4-for-5 of a 3-point range. Allen finished with 22 points. The Knicks worked hard and kept the Bucks’ tally to 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“The challenges with a guy like Giannis is that you have to load really well for him and they can make about 3 seconds,” Thibodeau said. “You still don’t get frustrated, you have to keep going and make sure you protect the paint and fire to cover that line. It requires you to do two or three things in the same play.”
The Knicks also received 26 minutes of grit from reserve center Nerlence Noel, who took the lead in his second game of occasional injury against Antitoconmo. Tibodo described his play as “enormous”.
The Knicks walked off the field in the second quarter after being attacked and beaten in the first shocking 12 minutes, when they trailed 38-19. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said his players lost their identity in the second quarter, and they felt that was where they lost the game.
“We found our identity in the second quarter,” Barrett replied.
With the Bucks bringing a rusty holiday to the bench, the starting lineup contained just one player from the title team: “The Greek Freak.” The rest of the starters were Pat Connaughton, Thanassis Antikonmo, Allen and George Hill.
But it is still considered a great victory.
“You don’t want to go down like we did but we did,” Tibodo said. “It was a long match and we kept fighting and got to a manageable number. We put in some loud plays and that kind of enthusiasm gave us energy.”