The youthful Knicks put up a surprisingly stiff fight against the mighty Golden State Warriors in the first half on Monday night, sneaking into the locker room with a 64-63 lead at Madison Square Garden.
But it took just 41 seconds in the second half for the Warriors to retake the lead, and a subsequent 11-0 run started what would be a machine-like third quarter for the Warriors. They outscored the Knicks by 39-18 in the period en route to an eventual 125-111 victory. What had looked like a close game ended with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant cheering on their teammates from the sidelines as they sat out the entire fourth quarter.
Golden State’s Klay Thompson led all scorers with 26 points on 9 of 13 shooting, and all five of the Warriors’ starters scored in double-digits. Curry finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, Durant had 22 points and 9 rebounds, and the team shot 15 of 31 from 3-point range.
It was Golden State’s 35th game this season in which the team had 30 or more assists, and the team’s record improved to 31-4 in such games.
The story of this game, however, was Golden State’s second-half defense. After initially struggling to contain a free-flowing Knicks offense, the Warriors completely shut things down after halftime. They harassed the Knicks on both ends of the court, with Draymond Green, JaVale McGee and Durant largely leading what was a teamwide effort
After the game, Coach Steve Kerr of the Warriors acknowledged that his team had a tendency to run away with games in the third quarter, but said it was more about the team having four All-Stars than anything he was doing.
“It’s not like we’re making big adjustments or anything,” he said. “I think it’s a mentality shift for the players, knowing that they’re in a fight down 1 at the half, and they tend to pick up their focus.”
The first half ended with the Knicks on top thanks to a 3-pointer by Lance Thomas that connected as the halftime buzzer rang. It was the culmination of a half in which the Knicks played Warriors-style basketball, with a great deal of ball movement and solid shooting, fighting their way back every time it looked like Golden State was making a run.
Emmanuel Mudiay, who had been ice-cold from outside in the five games since coming to the Knicks in a trade with the Denver Nuggets, had 18 points in the first half, shooting 3 for 4 from 3-point range. He had begun his Knicks career by going 0 for 13 on 3-pointers. He finished the day with a team-leading 23 points, and added seven assists.
Mudiay got plenty of help from Trey Burke and Frank Ntilikina, who finished with 18 and 13 points, but the Knicks’ offense took a major hit when Michael Beasley was forced out of the game late in the first half so he could be treated for a bad cut to his eyebrow sustained when Green’s elbow hit his face as the two fought for space under the basket.
Beasley, who received five stitches according to the Knicks’ medical staff, returned in the second half but finished the game with just 2 points.
The win was the second in a row for the Warriors, who briefly moved back into a tie at the top of the Western Conference standings before the Houston Rockets regained their half-game lead with a win over the Utah Jazz later Monday. The Knicks lost for the 10th time in 11 games.