Kevin Knox never left the bench Friday night, but the Knicks continued to sink to new depths without their 2018 first-round draft pick.
With David Fizdale keeping the flailing Knox on the bench while healthy for the first time in their two seasons together in New York, the Knicks followed up Wednesday’s disaster in Toronto by flushing another sizable first-half lead in a 101-95 giveaway loss to the 76ers at the Garden.
All-Star big man Joel Embiid totaled 27 points and 17 rebounds, Long Island product Tobias Harris scored 19 and Ben Simmons had 15 points with eight assists as Philadelphia overcame a 16-point deficit in the second quarter to improve to 13-6.
Julius Randle netted 22 points, Marcus Morris had 20 and rookie RJ Barrett added 18 for the Knicks, who have lost five straight games for the first time this season. The Knicks (4-15) also squandered a 17-point lead in a 109-104 loss in Philadelphia nine days earlier.
Fizdale notably used Damyean Dotson (10 points) and Wayne Ellington as wings off the bench, rather than Knox, who has regressed statistically since he put up 12.8 points per game as a rookie last season. That scoring average is down by five points per game, and he has reached double figures just once in his past 10 appearances.
The 20-year-old Knox, the ninth-overall pick in 2018 out of Kentucky, is shooting just 31.4 percent from the floor. He has played just 16.7 minutes per game over that span, including nine last Saturday against San Antonio and 12 on Wednesday in Toronto.
“I think Kevin’s OK. I think everybody else is making a big deal about me being tough on Kevin. Last year was a different year,” Fizdale said before the game. “This year, we’ve got some veteran guys who can get the job done and I want Kevin to learn his responsibilities in a different way.
“Sometimes that’s tough love. And Kevin’s taking it the right way and he’s going about it the right way and he’s working the right way.”
The hot-seated Fizdale, who also sat Allonzo Trier out for the seventh time in eight games, apparently felt changes needed to be made after Wednesday’s debacle. The Knicks led 29-21 through one quarter in Toronto, but the defending NBA champion Raptors erupted for a 37-17 run in the second and led by as many as 34 during a 126-98 rout.
“We had a heck of a first quarter and then we just stalled out,” Fizdale said. “You’re talking about the defending champs, a team that has ultimate trust in each other, approaches every possession like it’s the last.
“We need to take a page out of their notebook and really understand that and learn that.”
The Knicks came out firing again in Friday’s first quarter, with Barrett hitting four of six shots and totaling 10 points for a quick 31-18 lead. They even contested shots regularly at the other end, holding Philly to 30 percent shooting in the period, including 1-for-10 from 3-point range.
The Knicks extended their lead to 16 points on two Randle free throws late in the second quarter, before carrying a 51-39 cushion into intermission.
Before 10 minutes had elapsed in the third, however, the game was tied, on a 3-pointer from the left side by James Ennis III with 2:20 remaining for a 66-66 game. Embiid’s free throw with 1:25 to go gave Philly its first lead since the opening seconds (2-0), and another 3-pointer from Ennis (20 points) made it 70-68 entering the fourth.
The Knicks trailed for most of the final session until Barrett drew them even at 87-87 with a baseline drive with 2:51 remaining. But Embiid converted a three-point play, while fouling out Mitchell Robinson, and then hit two more free throws with two minutes left for a 92-89 Philadelphia lead.
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