The Knicks acknowledged their opponents Friday night were the ones scrambling for loose balls, blocking shots and playing like the hungrier team in desperate need of a win.
The Kings had dropped their previous four games and played like it, while the Knicks compounded a poor shooting night with a lack of intensity for much of the second half to put an end to their three-game winning streak.
Though RJ Barrett warned afterward that the improved Knicks (8-9) “haven’t done anything yet,” Julius Randle — the target of constant double-teaming by the Sacramento defense — stressed they must never deviate from the high-energy and defense-first style that punctuated their .500 start before their 103-94 loss to the Kings.
“Absolutely, that’s really what it’s all about, especially coming off the second night of a back-to-back. It’s all about being a dog, just all about fighting, our energy,” Randle said, referring to the Knicks’ impressive win the previous night at Golden State in the opener of a four-game road trip. “It really had nothing to do with [the Kings]. We’ve just got to come out with the right mindset that under the circumstances we’re gonna do whatever it takes to get a win.
“I think for the most part [Friday] it was kind of up and down. It was a weird game, but things happen. It was a learning experience for us, and we’ll get right back to it.”
The Knicks (8-9) fell to 1-2 in the second half of back-to-back games this season, after defeating Milwaukee on Dec. 27 and losing in Charlotte on Jan. 11. Coach Tom Thibodeau agreed that not being the hungrier side in any game is a recipe for failure for his team.
“I think every team [believes that]. That’s the challenge of the league,” Thibodeau said. “You win some, you lose some, but the next day — and usually you see it in the playoffs all the time — the team that wins the previous game comes in [needing] more of an edge the next game, that’s why you never let your guard down or feel too good about yourself.”
The Knicks also slipped to 5-5 on the road this season, with games against Portland (8-6) on Sunday and Utah on Tuesday rounding out the road trip. Thibodeau thought his team didn’t play with its “usual high-energy” and got “stuck” in the second half against the Kings, who built a 12-point lead behind guards De’Aaron Fox and rookie Tyrese Haliburton.
Haliburton, who said afterward that he was “personally fueled” by the Knicks bypassing him with the No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft, accounted for 16 points, two steals and four of Sacramento’s 14 blocked shots.
“You’ve got to be ready to go from the start to finish,” Thibodeau said. “There’s different challenges each night whether it’s travel or back to back, you may be shorthanded, whatever it may be.
“You want to build that consistency in terms of how you prepare, how hard you play, how smart you play and how together you play. It’s a team sport so you’re relying on everyone doing it together. If we fall short in one area that can impact the execution of either your offense or your defense, you want to learn from each situation and come back ready for the next one.”