Veteran center Taj Gibson has been a valuable member of the Knicks’ rotation as Mitchell Robinson recovers from a fractured foot (304007)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Knicks’ remarkable nine-game winning streak came to an end on Monday night by a tightly contested 118-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden. It was the longest period of on-the-court prosperity for the franchise since they won 13 in a row during the 2012-’13 season, which ended with an Atlantic Division title.

With only nine games remaining on their regular season schedule after facing the Chicago Bulls at the Garden last night (Wednesday, April 28), the Knicks won’t overtake the Brooklyn Nets or the Philadelphia 76ers for first place in the Atlantic before the start of the postseason in three weeks. They were 34-28 prior to hosting the Bulls—the last of a span of six consecutive games at MSG—eight games behind the division front-running Nets, who were 42-20, and six and a half below the 40-21 second place 76ers.

Still, head coach Tom Thibodeau’s crew was fourth overall in the Eastern Conference and barring a total collapse will end a seven-year playoff drought. They have thrived after the All-Star break, going 15-10, not including last night, despite having one of the top five toughest second half schedules in the entire NBA. All-Star and MVP candidate Julius Randle’s reaction after falling to the Suns was a window into the collective mindset the Knicks have adopted with laboriously attained success.

“It’s over, win the next one,” said Randle succinctly when asked about the Knicks’ first loss since April 9, demonstrably disappointed by the defeat. “The game’s in the past and move onto the next one. Find a way to close out the homestand with a win.’’

Suns guard Chris Paul, a surefire future Hall of Famer, paid homage to the Knicks after scoring eight points in the game’s final 1:23, ensuring his team came away with the win. “That team over there, that’s a team,” said Paul. “They play hard the right way and are well coached.’’

It’s a characterization of the Knicks that has been virtually unspoken and undeserved for many years. The Suns’ young superstar Devin Booker, who had a game-high 33 points, also expressed his respect for the Knicks.

“…Obviously we knew about the streak that they had going on and we knew that this was going to be a dogfight,” said the 24-year-old shooting guard. The Knicks will now embark on a 10-day, six game road trip, starting Sunday versus the Houston Rockets. They will meet the Memphis Grizzlies (Monday), the Denver Nuggets (next Wednesday), the Suns (next Friday), the L.A. Clippers (May 9) and the L.A. Lakers (May 11) before returning to New York to play the San Antonio Spurs on May 13.

The Knicks hope to get guard Alec Burks back in the lineup soon. Burks has been in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols since Aug. 16 and last played on April 14 against the New Orleans Pelicans. They are also without starting center Mitchell Robinson, who is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured right foot sustained March 27 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In their absence, veterans Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, both who started their NBA careers playing for Thibodeau when he was the head coach of the Bulls, and current starting center Nerlens Noel, have made major contributions embodying the sports maxim next man up.

Rose, playing point guard and off the ball, was averaging 13.9 points in 26.1 minutes as of last night. Gibson was posting 5.4 rebounds to go along with stellar defense in 22 minutes in a reserve role. Noel has been spectacular on the defensive end, deftly disrupting pick-and-roll action and rejecting 2.1 shots per game, third in the entire league despite averaging just 29 minutes of playing time.