The Knicks will need guard Jalen Brunson to maintain his stellar play and forward RJ Barrett to gain consistency to secure a favorable playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Credit: Bill Moore

Was Tuesday night at the Garden more an aberration than a sign the Knicks are wearing down ahead of a potentially grueling four-game, six-day Western Conference road trip beginning tonight against the Sacramento Kings? They gave up a 66-50 halftime lead to the Charlotte Hornets, a team that at 21-46 has the fourth worst record in the NBA when they play the Detroit Pistons tonight, before fading late in the fourth quarter to lose by 112-105.

“Our defense wasn’t there, the rebounding wasn’t there, so we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win it in the end,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.

The defeat ended the Knicks’ exceptional nine-game winning streak dating back to Feb. 11 in which they passed the Brooklyn Nets in the standings and snatched the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. They ended Tuesday 39-28, two games behind the No. 4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers, which were 41-26 when they played the Miami Heat on the road last night.

In their loss to the Hornets, the Knicks showed obvious residual effects of their gripping 131-129 double-overtime road win over the East’s No. 2 seed Boston Celtics on Sunday.
“We ran out of gas. That’s all,” said Knicks forward Julius Randle. “We gave them confidence early. You can’t just turn it on and off. We gave them confidence to start that third quarter, just trading baskets, then we ran out of gas and they picked it up a notch. So, [we] have to tip our hats to them.”

No one was more fuel-depleted than third-year guard Immanuel Quickley, who put on a masterful and career best performance versus the Celtics. Quickley logged 55 minutes and registered 38 points—his most as a pro—seven assists, eight rebounds, and, remarkably, just one turnover filling in for starting point guard Jalen Brunson, who was out with a sore foot.

Brunson was also sidelined for the Hornets game, and Quickley was much less effective than he was against the Celtics, shooting 5-16, and missing seven of 10 3-point attempts for 14 points in 35 minutes. All-Star forward Julius Randle, who also played 35 minutes, was uncharacteristically inefficient, shooting 5-17 and 2-9 on 3-pointers to finish with 16 points, nine below his season average of 25. He played 47 minutes two nights earlier in Boston.

RJ Barrett, who has been inconsistent in his fourth season in the NBA, led the Knicks with 27 points, but took 24 shots to hit that number, another indication of the team’s collective tired legs. Barrett was on the court for 50 minutes facing the Celtics and had his most productive and efficient overall output during the Knicks’ win streak, scoring 29 points on 10-22 from the field (3-9 on 3s), and recording 11 rebounds.

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