Gutsy Knicks effort not enough to keep up with red-hot Clippers

Barrett Knicks Kawhi Clippers
New York Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett (9) controls the ball against LA Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Even the Knicks’ top defense couldn’t slow down the overpowering offensive machine that was the Los Angeles Clippers’ attack on Sunday afternoon.

Kawhi Leonard dropped 28 and Paul George added 17 as the Clippers (15-5) outlasted the Knicks 129-115 while shooting 54.3% from the field and going 17-of-38 from three-point range in the victory. In this case, the unstoppable force that was the Clippers’ league-best three-point shooting could not be stopped by the immovable object that was the Knicks’ league-best perimeter defense.

“They put a lot of pressure on you,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Clippers. “Their ability to crack you off the dribble and post you up and catch and shoot… If you’re not reading the ball correctly, you’re going to be late getting out and we were. That put enormous pressure on us.

“115 points should be good enough to get a win.”

Los Angeles’ overwhelmingly solid performance further cemented the notion that they are one of the best teams in basketball, but the Knicks hung plenty tough in the loss to drop to 9-12 on the season.

Julius Randle continued to perform at an All-Star clip with 27 points that included a 4-of-5 effort from three-point range, 12 rebounds, and five assists.

RJ Barrett gave Leonard — one of the premier defenders in all of basketball — plenty to worry about with 23 points on another efficient afternoon, going 9-of-14 from the field. He continues to quiet early concerns that saw him struggle mightily from the floor, shooting 53.4% from the field over his last nine games.

Once again, though, the focus quickly shifted to rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, who posted 25 points in 27 minutes off the bench.

He made his largest impact early in the fourth quarter. With the Knicks down 10 points entering the final frame, Quickley willed the Knicks to stay in contention with 10 points in just over four minutes, including a three-pointer with 7:44 to go to get the Knicks within two.

“I liked the way that group was playing to start the fourth quarter,” Thibodeau said. “They put us in a pretty good position.”

Los Angeles would respond with a quick 9-0 run to go back up 11 with 5:45 to go that they would build on to secure their third-straight victory and their 10th win in 11 games. Granted, it says plenty about the Knicks culture that they were able to keep up for the majority of a game with an elite team in the league that was having a stellar offensive day.

“To their credit, there’s a reason why they have that record, they play hard and they play unselfishly,” Thibodeau said.

It’s a quick turnaround for the Knicks, though, as they take on the Bulls in Chicago on Monday night.