ATLANTA — Red hot early and ice late, with no defensive intensity throughout, wasn’t a recipe for success as the struggling Knicks lost their third straight game Friday night.
Playing without Mitchell Robinson, who was sidelined after having surgery Thursday for a broken right thumb, the Knicks connected on more than 70 percent of their shots in the first half. But Tom Thibodeau’s team missed the defensive presence of starting center from the start and were outgunned 20-4 to start the fourth quarter as the Hawks pulled away for a 139-124 win at State Farm Arena.
“You give up 139, and to their credit, they’re playing great basketball right now, but we’re not going to be able to win a game like that,” Thibodeau said. “I liked our attack a lot, [to] He shot 59 percent and scored 124. But right from the start, there was no defensive necessity or defensive mentality right from the start of the game.
“I loved the urgency and pace we played offensively. But I thought we made the game offensive defensively and they are just too good to do that. You have to be chained together in defense when you play against them. And I didn’t feel like we were.”
DeJohnte Murray scored 29 points, Tra Young 27, and DeAndre Hunter added 20 points for the Hawks (24-22), who achieved their fifth consecutive victory.
“It was too easy,” said Julius Randle, who scored 32 but couldn’t make any of it in the final period.
RJ Barrett scored 23 points for the Knicks (25-22) and Jalen Bronson finished with 19, having scored at least 25 points in each of the previous eight games.
“There were definitely a few things we could have made more difficult for them, but they made a lot of shots tonight,” added Barrett, who finished ranked the team – worst – 20th. “This is two games in a row where we let the team hit everything from the gate and have confidence for the rest of the match, even though we played very well.
“When you give confidence to a team early on, it’s hard to stop them. … You have to readjust to play, especially with Mitch Out.”
Jericho Sims started at center in place of an injured Robinson, who is scheduled for a reassessment in three weeks, and contributed 12 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes, while running back Isaiah Hartenstein scored just two points in 17 minutes off the bench.
Thibodeau also shifted briefly in the fourth quarter to a smaller lineup, with Randle at center and Obe Tobin, who scored seven points in 16 minutes, on the power forward.
The Knicks knocked down eight of their first 10 shots to open the game, but the Hawks buried 10 of their first 12 attempts from the floor for a quick 24-22 lead midway through the opening quarter.
While the Hawks eventually cooled off somewhat, missing seven straight shots, the Knicks continued to score and finished the quarter with a 38-35 advantage on 80.0 percent shooting (16-for-20).
The Hawks pulled in eight offensive rebounds in the first half (four by Clint Capella) and used an 11-4 advantage in second chance points to stay within 71-68 at the break, despite the Knicks shooting a 71.4 percent shooting rate over the first 24 minutes.
Quentin Grimes flagrantly fouled Young early in the third quarter. That sparked the Knicks’ opponent to score nine points in a 13-0 series lead in the first three minutes of the quarter to give Atlanta an 81-71 lead.
The Hawks extended that lead to 13 on Young’s triple right a minute later, but Randle outscored him 17-14 in the quarter—including a four-point play. Brunson also converted an “and-1” in the final seconds to draw the Knicks to within 102-101 entering the final period.
But they fell completely short in the fourth game, losing 9 of their first 10 shots, while Bogdan Bogdanovic shot 12 of 14 points in the final 12 minutes for Atlanta.
“Bounce was an issue, right from the start. That was a concern,” said Thibodeau. “Mitch is part of it, but we’ve been a good rebounding team all year. And now we are not playing great defense. So we have to get back to that.”