A New York Knicks road trip that began on the sunniest of notes received a dark trip back to reality on Sunday afternoon.
Belabored by a stagnant second half, the Knicks dropped a 116-95 decision to the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Arena, falling in consecutive contests after opening the trip with wins in Utah and Denver.
A Suns team missing Chris Paul was paced by his point guard replacement Cameron Payne, putting up 21 points while coming just short of a triple-double at nine assists and rebounds. A game-high 27 from Jalen Brunson led the Knicks, though he did see his streak of successful free throws fall at 46 (stopped six short of tying the franchise record).
Sunday could've been a day of happy returns for the Knicks (8-9), who welcome back Mitchell Robinson back into their lineup for the first time since he sustained a knee injury on Nov. 4 in Philadelphia. Quentin Grimes also returned to the Knicks' lineup for his second start this season after getting only two minutes over the last three, replacing the injured Cam Reddish. The first-rounder made the most of his extended opportunity, earning 10 points, eight assists, and five rebounds over 32 minutes of action.
In a case of macabre irony, however, the Knicks were horribly outrebounded upon the return of the big man, with Phoenix holding a 60-39 advantage (Deandre Ayton led the way with 11 in a double-double). That included a 22-10 dominance on the offensive glass, six of those going to the arms of Bismack Biyombo (10 total off the bench).
The 19 second chance points that Phoenix (10-6) generated were part of a monstrous second half, one that saw them lead by as many as 26 after the Knicks failed to generate any offensive traction. Trailing by only two after the first half, the Knicks mustered only 42 points while shooting 34 percent from the field over the latter 24 minutes, including 2-of-12 from three-point range. Brunson did what he could to salvage the effort, shooting 6-of-9 to create his final tally, but Devin Booker and Damion Lee each sank three triples over the same span. Phoenix sank 17 from deep (nine total from Booker and Lee) while the Knicks countered with only seven.
New York and Phoenix will do battle again on Jan. 2 at Madison Square Garden.
In more immediate affairs, the Knicks will play the final leg of their western tour on Monday, when they'll seek revenge for a Nov. 13 loss in Oklahoma City (8 p.m. ET, MSG).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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