Knicks’ defense falls apart in blowout loss to Clippers


LOS ANGELES — A schedule loss became a defensive embarrassment for the Knicks. 

The visitors offered no resistance in the second game of a back-to-back against the streaking Clippers, swapping Jalen Brunson’s heroics from a night earlier for lethargic rotations, a flood of fouls and an ugly scoreboard in the 144-122 defeat. 

Kawhi Leonard dominated his matchup against Julius Randle, looking more like the 2019 playoff version than the injury-riddled DNP of the last few seasons.

Leonard dropped 36 points in just 30 minutes, hitting 12 of his 16 attempts, as the Clippers (15-10) won their seventh straight. 

Brunson returned to earth after his 50-point three-ball perfection from Phoenix, scoring 22 on 7-of-17 shooting.

He went 2-for-5 from beyond the arc. 

Coach Tom Thibodeau was so fed up he pulled his starters with 6:26 remaining. 

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle moves the ball against Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

The Knicks (14-11), who get to stay in Beverly Hills before facing the Lakers on Monday, gave up over 140 points in regulation for the second time this season.

It’s a poor excuse but the Knicks were clearly missing the inside defensive presence of Mitchell Robinson, who is out until probably February after undergoing ankle surgery

They allowed 60 points in the paint and 34 foul shots to the Clippers, with Thibodeau increasingly reluctant to leave Jericho Sims in the game for extended minutes. 

Jalen Brunson followed up his 50-point night with 22 points. NBAE via Getty Images

Adding frustration to their defensive deficiencies, Josh Hart was tossed in the second quarter after a comment to the ref, picking up two technicals for whatever was muttered.

Hart wasn’t particularly demonstrative in the interaction with referee CJ Washington, but he also didn’t argue the ejection. 

It was the first Knicks ejection of the season. Without Hart and Robinson, the Knicks allowed LA to shoot 57 percent on the evening — including 49 percent on 3-pointers. 

The defense has a problem. It has allowed an average of 132 points in the last six games. 

Offensively, the Knicks got 22 points from Randle and 18 apiece from Donte DiVincenzo and RJ Barrett.

Josh Hart was ejected from the game against the Clippers on Saturday. Getty Images

DiVincenzo picked up where Brunson left off in Phoenix, connecting on four straight treys in Saturday night’s opening quarter. 

But New York’s prospects of winning at Arena faded by the third quarter. 

The Clippers played all their stars, with Paul George (25 points, 11-of-18 shooting) returning from a one-game absence because of a hip injury. 

They’re a much different team than when the Knicks shellacked the Clippers at MSG on Nov. 6, when Harden made his season debut after forcing a trade from Philadelphia.

Harden has been much better.

: James Harden high-fives Amir Coffey of the LA Clippers during the game against the New York Knicks. NBAE via Getty Images

Leonard and George — both potential free agents in the summer — have been committed to playing games, a reversal from their previous three seasons together in LA. 

“Great players always figure it out,” Thibodeau said. “It doesn’t happen in a split second. Those guys have played together before so I felt like, okay, this should be or will be a pretty easy transition for them. They’re all high-IQ guys. I think the big thing for them is health.” 

It didn’t start well for the Knicks.

About two minutes into the game, Clippers center Ivica Zubac ignited the crowd by dunking on Sims. 

It was a sign of things to come.

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