Tom Thibodeau vents at Knicks’ starters, reserves’ rally not enough to…

Before the game began Tom Thibodeau implored his team to understand what it would take to beat defending champion Milwaukee Bucks five days after beating them on the road. The starting unit had provided almost nothing, looking like five guys who had met outside the arena before the game, putting the Knicks in a huge hole.

And then with the slightest indication of life, the venerable arena pulsed to life as the crowd woke and a group of reserves embarked on an improbable rally, pulling the Knicks back into the game. But in the end, the crowd, and the bench unit just didn’t have enough to stop the defending champs as the Knicks fell to the Milwaukee Bucks, 112-100.

A 24-point deficit was completely wiped out in the fourth quarter, but in the end the Knicks couldn’t finish the job and instead fell to 2-4 at home. There would be no wild celebration in the streets outside the Garden. In the end it was just a disappointing ending again at home.

The Knicks held Giannis Antetokounmpo in check, forcing him into 5-for-15 shooting and just 15 points. But Milwaukee burned them with 26-for-50 shooting beyond the arc. The Knicks starters were mostly dreadful, combining to shoot 12-for-36 before giving way to the reserves.

The struggles of the starting unit prompted Thibodeau to yank them all one by one in the third quarter and ride the bench unit all the way to the finish and with good reason.

“You know what they say. When it’s 10 games, they say you need 20,” Thibodeau said of the time needed for the starting unit to gel. “When you say 20, they say you need 30, at 30 you say 40. And before you know it, the season is over. So that’s a bunch of [crap].”

While the Knicks have gone 5-1 on the road this season, that has been countered by too many nights just like this at home where they fell to 2-4 on the season.

Last season, with the stands empty for most of the season due to COVID restrictions, the Knicks were 25-11 at Madison Square Garden while managing just a 16-20 road record, the home dominance helping them to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and their first playoff berth in eight seasons.

“We try to ease into games,” Rose said. “We try to get a feel instead of being the aggressor. And a lot of times you have to be the aggressor, you know? Let people know that you’re there, but that’s not only the starting five. That’s the bench coming in, playing lackadaisical, nonchalant. We picked it up late. But that’s everybody. We’re not that good to give people points or give them confidence. We got to come out and be the hardest-playing team, and we got to learn soon.”

Down nine at halftime the Knicks were down by eight early in the third quarter when the Bucks ran off 16 straight points — the last two coming on a lazy pass by Immanuel Quickley that was picked off by Giannis Antetokounmpo, leading to a breakaway dunk.

The Knicks were nevertheless trailing 82-62 late in the third quarter, lifeless and being run out of their own arena. And then suddenly it all turned without warning. With Thibodeau searching for an energy burst he put Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Alec Burks on the floor with Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. And in the final seconds of the third quarter a small spark was lit when Quickley drove for a layup and then Rose swiped the ball from Jordan Nwora and just beat the buzzer ending the quarter with a fast break layup.

nevertheless, the deficit was 16 with little sign that they could get back In this against the defending champs. But the reserves continued to chip away. A 24-second violation by Milwaukee started a loud, “Let’s go Knicks,” chant at the Garden and when Toppin deflected a pass and Gibson grabbed it, starting a break that ended with Rose passing ahead to Burks the deficit was 82-71.

From there each defensive stop was an answer to chants of “De-fense” and every basket seemed to have the crowd on its feet as the rule chipped away. Toppin cut it to three and then Quickley tied the score at 89-89 with a three-point field goal, the second-year guard dancing down the court. The Bucks answered with a three, but Rose found Toppin cutting to the rim for another layup. After a Jrue Holiday three pushed the rule to four, Rose answered with a three of his own and the deficit was just one as Milwaukee called timeout with 3:52 left.

Connaughton hit a three and this time Quickley misfired from the corner. Antetokounmpo was called for a foul as he confined a Toppin move to the rim — but on a coach’s challenge the call was overturned and ruled a clean block with 2:51 left and the Knicks down by four. The Bucks won the jump ball and Connaughton hit a corner three to push the rule to seven.

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