The quarterfinals of the inaugural In-Season Tournament are upon us and the New York Knicks have a front row seat. They’ll take on the athletic Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum, with the winner facing either the Celtics or Pacers in the semis.
This marks the second meeting between the two Eastern Conference rivals and could be a tight one. The Knicks have won four of five and seem motivated after sneaking into a tournament wild card spot. They also played the Bucks in Milwaukee last month in a tournament group play game, losing a lead in the final minute.
This isn’t just a tournament game for the Knicks, but a potential revenge game. They’ve proven they can keep up with Milwaukee, but can they finish the game this time?
Time: Tuesday, Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET.
Betting Line: Knicks +4.5, Over/under 227 via DraftKings
Injuries: Evan Fournier (Illness, questionable) DaQuan Jeffries, (Illness, questionable), Andre Jackson Jr. (Back, questionable) Jae Crowder (Adductor & abdominal surgery, OUT), Pat Connaughton (Ankle, OUT).
Key Storyline: Can the Knicks survive and advance to the semis? This always seems to be the question for the recently resurgent Knicks: Can they pull off the big wins that matter? Indicators so far are yes, as New York rallied and ran up the score accordingly against Charlotte a week ago. However, regular championship contender Milwaukee is a different beast than the lowly Hornets.
The Knicks will need to make their shots early and put their top-ranked defense to good use. Not to mention take advantage of a dwindling Bucks D that ranks just 22nd in the league.
Key Matchup: Julius Randle vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo. This isn’t so much about Randle slowing down Giannis, but more matching his production. He noticeably struggled in the Knicks’ previous meeting with the Bucks, shooting just 5 of 20 and 1 of 9 from three, though he did finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Even so, the Knicks didn’t have RJ Barrett in that game and could have used more efficiency from Randle.
He did, however, do a good job matching the former MVP on the boards. Giannis was limited to just eight boards that night and only took ten total shots. Now that Randle’s offseason ankle surgery seems to be past him, he’s in line for an even bigger performance.
X-Factor: RJ Barrett. As we said at the start, the Bucks needed some Damian Lillard heroics in the final minute to beat the Knicks last month. Looking back at the game, it’s safe to say the Knicks likely win if Barrett doesn’t sit out with a sore knee. Now, the dynamic Canadian wing is healthy and ready to go.
RJ Barrett is quietly having his most productive season yet and has shown notable improvement from long range. He’s made nearly 39% of his threes and has even more quietly become a team leader. Between corner threes and driving the lane, plus wing defense, the Knicks need a multi-pronged attack from Barrett tonight.
Knicks predicted lineup: Jalen Brunson (PG), Quentin Grimes (SG), RJ Barrett (SF), Julius Randle (PF), Mitchell Robinson (C)
Bucks predicted lineups: Damian Lillard (PG), Malik Beasley (SG), Khris Middleton (SF), Giannis Antetokounmpo (PF), Brook Lopez (C)
Prediction: Sorry, Knicks fans, but it’s the end of the line. The Bucks are just too fast and strong, not to mention the third-best scoring team in the league. In a tournament game, they’ll come out swinging and find a way to pull away late.
Bucks defeat Knicks 129-109