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Despite opening up a 15-point lead in the first half, the New York Knicks couldn’t hold off Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns.

Danny Small

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the Phoenix Suns snapped a nine-game winning streak for the New York Knicks, but there are still reasons for optimism for the orange and blue. As far as losses go, this one shouldn’t sting all that much.

Julius Randle could never find his rhythm and RJ Barrett struggled to score in the second half. Still, they had a chance to win in the final minutes. There was just too much Chris Paul for the Knicks to pull out the victory.

Here are three highlights and three observations from New York’s 118-110 loss to Phoenix on Monday night.

Highlight 1: Unhappy Thibs

Highlight 2: Derrick Rose Cooking

Highlight 3: Chris Paul Circus Shot

Observation 1: Elfrid Payton’s Role Decreasing

Elfrid Payton continues to start, but Tom Thibodeau is starting to rely on him less and less. In his last six games, Payton has played 23, 20, 18, 17, 15, and 15 minutes. His minutes are decreasing as Thibodeau begins leaning on Derrick Rose.

Speaking of Rose, he kept the Knicks afloat down the stretch, picking up the slack while Randle and Barrett struggled. The veteran point guard tallied 22 points, six rebounds, and six assists.

Whether or not Thibs puts Rose in the starting lineup remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Payton’s role is diminishing. This decrease in minutes and role could be amplified when Alec Burks returns from health and safety protocols.

Observation 2: No Backing Down

The Suns are one of the best teams in the NBA and a true championship contender. Sure, most of the roster has no playoff experience, but they have Chris Paul. He showed the world exactly what he can do in clutch time on Monday night against the Knicks.

Despite falling short, the Knicks went toe-to-toe with the Suns. They hung tough even when they didn’t have their best night. That should give them some confidence moving forward.

Observation 3: Bounce Back

This was always going to be the toughest game of the week for the Knicks. Like we said, the Suns are a legitimate NBA Finals contender and even though they were on the second night of a back-to-back, they had their full complement of stars.

The Knicks will play one more game at home before a long road trip against Western Conference foes. Picking up wins against the Bulls on Wednesday and the Rockets on Sunday would be a good way to bounce back from this loss.

New York’s meeting with Houston kicks off a six-game road trip against four playoff teams (Nuggets, Suns, Clippers, Lakers) and one play-in tournament team (Grizzlies). Although the Knicks are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference after Monday night, they have almost no margin for error. They are tied with the Hawks in the standings but have the tiebreaker over Atlanta.