Julius Randle pledged his allegiance to the Knicks earlier in the day, but neither the slumping All-Star nor his team immediately could reverse their related skids.
Randle was no match for two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in a 123-108 road loss to the Bucks on Friday night in Milwaukee. It marked the sixth defeat in seven games for the fading Knicks, who fell to 23-27 and behind Atlanta into 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The regressing Randle, who said at the morning shootaround that he still wants to “be a part of” the Knicks and “to see this thing through,” was scoreless in the first quarter before finishing with a quiet nine points and 11 rebounds over 37 minutes.
Evan Fournier scored 25 points and RJ Barrett netted 23 for the Knicks, who play their next two games at home against Sacramento and Memphis before a daunting five-game Western swing begins later next week.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks (31-20) with 38 points and 13 rebounds, Jrue Holliday had 24 points and Khris Middleton finished with 20.
The Knicks trailed by five through three quarters, but Antetokounmpo netted seven points — including a ferocious dunk and one of the Bucks’ 14 3-pointers — in a 20-6 run early in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 16.
Tom Thibodeau stuck with the same starting unit that was dominated at both ends of the court Wednesday by the Heat in Miami. But Randle committed two early turnovers, and he was outscored by Antetokounmpo 13-0 in the first quarter alone, as the Bucks nailed five 3-pointers and scored 39 points to grab a nine-point lead.
Nerlens Noel committed a Flagrant-1 for contact to the face of Antetokounmpo early in the second, and the Bucks extended their lead to as many as 15. But the Knicks closed the half on a 21-10 run — including Randle’s first two baskets of the game in the final two minutes — to trail 67-63 at intermission. Each team connected on nine 3-pointers in the half, with Barrett netting 13 points and Quentin Grimes nailing three triples for 11 points off the bench.
Barrett’s trey early in the third shaved the Knicks’ deficit to one, but Antetokounmpo answered with a thunderous dunk over Mitchell Robinson. He upped his point total to 26 with nine in the period as Milwaukee led 93-88 entering the final quarter.