It was a good preseason, wasn't it? And that season-opening rout of the Milwaukee Bucks certainly seemed to portend good things. But as the Knicks toyed with victory Friday night -- teetering on the brink of a game-changing run before eventually falling victim to yet another lackluster fourth quarter -- it became increasingly obvious that merely coming close isn't going to cut it if this team plans to ease the sting of the painful 2014-15 season.
The Knicks squandered a complete performance by Kristaps Porzingis and were unable to build on three fourth-quarter ties before falling to the Bucks, 99-92, at Madison Square Garden, a little more than a week after beating the Bucks by 25. It was the third straight loss for the Knicks (2-4).
"Execution at the end," Porzingis said of the Knicks' fatal flaw. "The beginning of the game, they started off very good, and that cost us a lot of energy . . . [We can change it by] sticking together and having focus."
The Knicks, who never led, tied the score for the first time 16 seconds into the fourth quarter on Lance Thomas' jumper. Derrick Williams tied it again at 79 with 8:25 to play, and his two free throws 50 seconds later knotted it at 81 before the Bucks went on a 11-2 run, mostly courtesy of John Henson.
Henson palmed a feed from a spinning Giannis Antetokounmpo under the basket, and his short jumper with 6:58 to play was good for an 85-81 lead. Henson, who had 22 points off the bench, scored seven in that game-changing run.
"I think [we just have to] figure out how to win any way possible," coach Derek Fisher said. "Finding a group of five guys that collectively finish the game, I think, is going to be important for us, and that's tough to do sometimes, depending on the minutes and depending on the rotations . . . Right around the eight- to six-minute mark in the fourth, people are getting a little separation from us."
Antetokounmpo had 20 points, seven rebounds and two steals for the Bucks (3-3). Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 17 points but continued to struggle with his shot, going 6-for-16 from the floor. Porzingis notched his second double-double (he had his first one against the Spurs on Monday night) with 14 points and 13 rebounds, nine of them offensive. Williams scored 15 off the bench.
The game was in stark contrast with the season opener, when the Knicks manhandled the Bucks in every which way -- leading by double digits for the majority of the second half and getting 73 of their 122 points off the bench.
That, though, was a team without Antetokounmpo, who did some manhandling of his own in the early going. He had eight of his points in the first quarter, and his booming block on Williams' three-point attempt with 3:05 left helped the Bucks bring a 30-20 lead into the second quarter.
The Knicks showed some vigor, but despite outscoring the Bucks 33-26 in the second quarter, they never led.
"I think -- all credit to Cleveland and Milwaukee . . . but when we look back . . . we're going to see a lot of mistakes," Robin Lopez said.
Added Porzingis: "It's not easy to win in the NBA. You have to work really hard to win here."
From beginning to end.