Knicks fall to lowly Hornets as nine-game win streak snapped

Part of being a successful NBA team is the notion that a matchup against a lower-echelon opponent can be construed as a trap game, especially coming off the emotional nature of a win such as the Knicks’ double-overtime thriller at Boston on Sunday.

Tom Thibodeau’s rolling squad fell flat Tuesday night, blowing a 16-point halftime lead to the Hornets, while shooting 5-for-26 in the fourth quarter, to halt their nine-game winning streak with a lethargic 112-105 loss at the Garden.

“We just ran out of gas, that’s all,” Julius Randle said. “We gotta be better and take care of business. We gotta take care of business, regardless.”

RJ Barrett scored 27 points, but Randle shot 5-for-17 and finished with 16 for the Knicks (39-28), who will embark on a four-game West Coast swing beginning Thursday night in Sacramento.

One game after Immanuel Quickley had a standout performance against the Celtics — 38 points in 55 minutes with starting point guard Jalen Brunson sidelined — he also endured a rough shooting night, scoring 14 points on 5-for-16 from the floor.

Julius Randle, who scored just 16 points, argues with an official during the Knicks' 112-105 loss to the Hornets.
Julius Randle, who scored just 16 points, argues with an official during the Knicks’ 112-105 loss to the Hornets.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Brunson sat out a second consecutive game with a sore left foot, but point guard LaMelo Ball (ankle) also was out for the Hornets, who own the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference (21-46). Kelly Oubre Jr. led Charlotte with 27 points, Terry Rozier had 25 and Gordon Hayward added 23.

“There’s a lot we can learn from tonight,” Thibodeau said. “We’re not gonna be perfect. We didn’t play a great game, but bounce back tomorrow.

“In the end, we fell short. We ran out of time.”

Before the game, Thibodeau didn’t want to hear about a potential letdown.

“I think every game is a trap game,” he said. “You’re right, it’s human nature, too. You let your guard down, a little bit, you’re going to slip. This league is too good. … You have to make sure you get the proper amount of preparation and that we’re ready to play.”

Quickley missed his first five shots, including four from 3-point range, in 10 scoreless minutes in the first quarter.

Tom Thibodeau argues a call during the third quarter of the Knicks' loss.
Tom Thibodeau argues a call during the third quarter of the Knicks’ loss.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The Knicks shot 3-for-13 from beyond the arc and were tied, 21-21, through one period.

Barrett found his groove alongside the four-man second unit, with 13 points in the first six minutes of the second quarter, for 17 before halftime.

Quickley buried his first 3-pointer of the night from the corner for a nine-point cushion, and then hit another from the right side for a 13-point cushion with 3:14 remaining until intermission.

He converted a traditional three-point play less than one minute later.

Quentin Grimes (12 points) nailed his second 3-pointer of the half before beating the clock with a reverse layup as the Knicks led 66-50 through two quarters.

RJ Barrett, who scored a team-high 27 points, goes up for a layup during the Knicks' loss.
RJ Barrett, who scored a team-high 27 points, goes up for a layup during the Knicks’ loss.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Po

The Hornets chipped away in the third, however, and used an 11-0 run to grab a one-point lead, 87-86, with 52.1 seconds left.

Obi Toppin’s 3-pointer put the Knicks back up by two entering the fourth, Josh Hart (nine points) netted four points and Deuce McBride (seven points) sank a runner early in the final period to push the lead back to eight.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Hayward and Oubre made it a one-point game, and Rozier tied it, 100-100, with a jumper with 3:22 to go.

Hayward’s three-point play put the Hornets ahead one possession later, and after Randle forged another tie with a spinning drive, Hayward sank a pull-up jumper and Oubre buried another 3 for a 108-103 Charlotte lead with 58 seconds to play.

After Randle hit two free throws, Hayward committed an offensive foul to give the Knicks back the ball.

But Randle was called for a loose ball foul off a Quickley miss at the other end, and Rozier swished both free throws to replenish the five-point lead with 29.1 seconds to play.

“I think we didn’t play our style of basketball. We didn’t play winning basketball,” Hart said after suffering his first loss in 10 games with the Knicks. “We gotta make sure we’re full of energy and lively every time we step on the court. … I don’t think we can blame this on fatigue. But we have to continue to grow and play winning basketball.”