ATLANTA — Red hot early and ice cold late was not a recipe for success as the Knicks lost their third consecutive game Friday night.
Playing without Mitchell Robinson, who is sidelined after he had surgery Thursday on his broken right thumb, the Knicks connected on better than 70 percent of their shots in the first half. But Tom Thibodeau’s team missed its starting center’s defensive presence and was outscored 20-4 to start the fourth quarter as the Hawks pulled away for a 139-124 victory at State Farm Arena.
Dejounte Murray scored 29 points, Trae Young had 27 and DeAndre Hunter added 20 for the surging Hawks, who won their fifth consecutive game.
Julius Randle scored a game-high 32 points, but had none in the final period. RJ Barrett scored 23 points and Jalen Brunson finished with 19 after netting at least 25 in each of the previous eight games.
The Knicks (25-22) trailed by one entering the fourth quarter, but they missed nine of their next 10 shots and Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 12 minutes.
Jericho Sims started at center in place of the injured Robinson and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes, while slumping center Isaiah Hartenstein contributed just two points in 17 minutes off the bench.
“The rim protection for both is excellent. So that part is great,” Thibodeau said before the game. “Isaiah [plays] more away from the basket, can open the floor up with shooting, passing. And then Jericho is relentless, vertical pressure on the rim, movement on the baseline, offensive rebounding, that sort of thing.
“So we don’t have to change. Jericho and Isaiah have been in the rotation and that was one of the things that stood out when we were acquiring those guys, was the rim protection. We felt both were capable.”
Thibodeau has said he can turn to Randle at center when matchups dictate a smaller lineup configuration, perhaps opening playing time for Obi Toppin, who scored seven points in 16 minutes Friday.
Either way, it will be a group effort to replace Robinson, who is slated to be reevaluated in three weeks. Robinson ranks second in the NBA with 4.3 offensive rebounds game and fifth with 1.8 blocked shots per game.
The Knicks knocked down eight of their first 10 shots, including eight quick points by Brunson, but the Hawks buried 10 of their first 12 attempts from the floor for a fast-paced 24-22 lead midway through the opening quarter.
While the Hawks eventually cooled somewhat, missing seven straight shots, the Knicks kept scoring and finished the quarter with a 38-35 advantage on 80 percent shooting (16-for-20). Randle had 11 points in the period, while Brunson and Barrett netted eight apiece.
Toppin, who talked before the game about needing to start getting to the rim again after averaging just 2.2 points over his last six appearances, closed the scoring in the quarter with a baseline dunk. The former lottery pick flushed another lob pass from Brunson early in the second and followed that with a 3-pointer on the next possession for seven points in eight first-half minutes.
Sharp ball movement by the Knicks led to subsequent slams by Sims and Randle. But the Hawks pulled down eight offensive rebounds in the half (four by Clint Capela) and used an 11-4 advantage in second-chance points to stay within 71-68 at intermission, despite the Knicks shooting 71.4 percent through 24 minutes.
Quentin Grimes committed a flagrant foul on Young at the start of the third quarter, and that sparked the Knicks’ nemesis to score nine points in an 13-0 run in the first three minutes of the quarter to seize an 81-71 lead.
The Hawks extended that cushion to 13 on Young’s straightaway trey one minute later, but Randle outscored him 17-14 in the quarter — including a four-point play. Brunson also converted an “and-1” in the closing seconds to draw the Knicks within 102-101 entering the final period.
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