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Brunson-less Knicks Declawed By Hawks Despite Comeback Effort

The New York Knicks put up a spirited comeback but couldn't make up for a slow start sans Jalen Brunson.

The New York Knicks learned the hard way that, sometimes, it really is about how you start.

With Jalen Brunson (knee) added to the "out" category on their nightly injury report, the Knicks fell behind early and never recovered en route to a 116-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Jalen Johnson scored 26 points to pace Atlanta while De'Andre Hunter added 22 off the bench.

While the Knicks (36-26) may have gotten relatively easy when it came to a potential stretch without Brunson after he left Sunday's game in Cleveland in the opening minute, life without the point guard's services was hardly easy, no matter how temporary. 

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With momentum seemingly flowing after the emotional victory over the Cavaliers, the Knicks immediately relinquished it by allowing Atlanta to jump out to an 8-1 lead. Their first field goal came via a Precious Achuiwa dunk with just over four minutes gone by but that was hardly enough to stifle Atlanta's thrust. A 9-0 run to close the period built an 18-point lead for the Hawks, one partly founded by outrebounding the Knicks 17-9 over the first dozen. Johnson was 5-of-7 from the field while Villanova alum Saddiq Bey pulled in four of the boards.

The Knicks' remaining Villanova contingent took a very Wildcats-like approach to their problems: attempting to three-pointers at them until they disappeared. New York put up 52 triples on Tuesday night, two short of a single-game franchise record and just the ninth time they tried at least half a hundred. Accuracy, however, dwindled, as the Knicks hit only 16, five coming from 17 attempts for Donte DiVincenzo, who led Tuesday's hosts with 21 points in defeat.

Despite the roster and shooting woes, New York did manage to make a game out of it: they trimmed the deficit to 11 by halftime after falling behind by as much as 21 and even generated two ties in the third quarter. In the middle periods, the Knicks outscored Atlanta by 13 and held a plus-one advantage in the rebounding battle. New York distributed 15 assists on 24 successful field goals in that span, six coming from the arms of Miles McBride, who earned Brunson's usual starting nod. The Knicks also hit 9-of-18 from three in the same timeframe, with Bojan Bogdanovic going 3-of-4.

But after the Knicks generated a 78-all tie, Atlanta (27-34) took a permanent lead by scoring the final five points of the third before shooting over 72 percent in the final period, which saw the Knicks shrink the lead to four before Dejounte Murray's triple just before the midway mark ignited a 21-9 run over the final 6:02.

With the win, Atlanta, still missing franchise face Trae Young, maintained a 2.5-game lead on the Brooklyn Nets for the fourth and final spot in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament. Atlanta also avoided its first regular season series sweep at the hands of the Knicks for the first time since 2021 after dropping the first two meetings at home this year.

The Knicks return to action on Friday when a four-game homestand continues against the Orlando Magic (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG). With Tuesday's loss, New York fell behind Orlando for fourth place on the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.