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Tom Thibodeau likes to preach that an NBA team still can play well even if it’s not shooting well.
Still, the Knicks’ wayward shooting performance in their final game of 2020 was too disastrous for any team to withstand.
The squad that surprisingly began the night leading the league in three-point shooting (45.9 percent) connected on just three of 36 attempts from long distance Thursday in a 100-83 loss to the COVID-relocated Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
The Knicks’ starting lineup finished the game an astonishing 0-for-23 from three-point range, including nine straight misses by Reggie Bullock and eight by RJ Barrett. The 0-for-23 from long range by the starters is the most misses without a make by a starting five in NBA history.
Julius Randle paced the Knicks (2-3) with 16 points and 10 rebounds before he hobbled off the court with what the Knicks said were cramps with 3:24 to play.
Tampa native Kevin Knox, whose parents were among the estimated 3,800 fans in attendance, added 16 points off the bench. Knox also underwent X-rays on his right hand at halftime, but they came back negative.
With four guards sidelined by injuries, nine-year veteran Austin Rivers totaled seven points and five assists in 21 minutes off the bench in his Knicks debut after missing the entire preseason and the first four games with a groin injury.
All-Star forward Pascal Siakam was a late scratch for Toronto reportedly for disciplinary reasons; he walked off the court directly to the locker room after he fouled out of Tuesday’s loss to Philadelphia.
Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 25 points and seven assists, while Kyle Lowry scored 20 and Norman Powell added 17 in Toronto’s ninth straight win over the Knicks.
The Knicks bricked nine of their first 10 shots and shot just 30.4 percent (7-for-24) from the floor in the first quarter, but Knox nailed a couple of late 3-pointers to draw them within four points (22-18) entering the second.
Rivers, whose father Doc (now the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers) played for the Knicks from 1992-94, noted before the game that the Knicks had been “playing hard” under Thibodeau in winning their previous two games against Milwaukee and Cleveland. Thibodeau was a member of Doc Rivers’ staff with Boston from 2007-10.
“The one thing that has to be consistent is when I’m out there, I’ve got to play hard,” said Austin Rivers, who agreed to a three-year deal [one guaranteed] worth $10 million ahead of a a November sign-and-trade. “Because that’s what our team is symbolized as right now. We’re one of these teams, there’s not an off-night when you play the Knicks. That’s the mindset we’re trying to establish here.
“I know makes and misses can waver, but your effort can’t. That’s kind of what Thibs has instilled on this team. I’m just going to come in and play hard.”
Rivers helped eradicate much of an early 11-point hole with three assists in the final four minutes of the opening period.
The Knicks grabbed their first lead on Randle’s three-point play with 1:29 remaining in the second quarter before settling for a 42-42 tie at halftime.
Randle finished the half with a team-high 13 points and Knox added 11, but the latter’s two threes were the Knicks’ only successful attempts among 20 from long range before intermission.
Despite their continued shooting woes, the Knicks led by as many as seven in the third quarter, but Alex Len netted 10 points as the Raptors closed the session on a 26-12 run for a 71-64 lead entering the final quarter.
Rivers’ three 1:33 into the fourth ended a string of 20 straight long-range misses for the Knicks, but 3-pointers by Chris Boucher and VanVleet boosted Toronto’s lead to 14 with under six minutes remaining.
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