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The scary part is the Knicks didn’t play badly.
In fact, their offensive attack was as good if not better than all season.
Julius Randle was his usual handful. Rookie sensation Immanuel Quickley was electric, his game called “crazy and fearless’’ by Clippers star Paul George afterward. And RJ Barrett was a powerful 23-point force.
“I liked his mindset,” Kawhi Leonard, a free agent this coming offseason said of Barrett. “The sky is the limit.”
It’s the Knicks own Big 3 of Hope — ages 26, 22 and 20, respectively.
And though the Knicks went toe to toe with the Clippers for three and a half quarters, pulling within two points with 7:42 left after a flurry of Quickley baskets, it still wasn’t enough. Not nearly.
The Clippers of Paul George and Leonard are loaded, looking like championship material in beating the Knicks 129-115 on Sunday afternoon at the Garden.
Best team the Knicks have faced this season? Oh yes, said Randle, who piled up 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
“Absolutely, 100 percent, without a doubt,’’ said Randle, who scored inside, outside and in-between to carry on an All-Star-caliber campaign. “You can tell they’re a championship-caliber team we aspire to be. We put ourselves in position. At the end of the day, they’re really good — hats off to them.’’
Serge Ibaka’s offseason addition was an overlooked gem and he buried the Knicks with a 3-pointer and a three-point play late off an offensive rebound.
Marcus Morris, the ex-Knick, looks perfectly comfortable as a complementary Clippers’ bench piece instead of last season’s No. 1 option in orange and blue.
Morris hit a dagger left-corner 3 in the fourth quarter Sunday, finished with 11 points. Morris had three of Clippers’ 17 3s that likely kept Thibodeau up all Sunday night after the team arrives at his former workplace, Chicago.
Does Morris, traded at last February’s deadline, miss New York? Heck, no. He views the Garden now as his stepping stone.
Morris said afterward he’s playing for “the best staff’’ in the NBA headed by Tyronn Lue, who has the Clippers off to the second-best record in the NBA at 16-5.
“We have something going on,’’ Morris said. “I had my opportunity show what I could do in New York. Everyone took notice of that. I used that platform to get on a bigger stage. I’m here to compete for a championship. I want to be part of that team to win the first championship for the Clippers and we’re trending in that direction.
The Knicks did the right thing in trading Morris last February for a late first-rounder that turned into Quickley, who dumped in another 25 points in 27 minutes off the bench Sunday.
Quickley faced his idol Lou Williams, shook his hand and told him so. But Quickley wasn’t intimidated. In the fourth, he grabbed an offensive rebound in the lane off his own 3-point miss and floated it though. He paid his respect to the Clippers afterward.
“It takes everything to go your way,’’ Quickley said. “They were making a lot of tough shots.’’
Don’t tell that to Thibodeau, who was guiding the NBA’s top defense and 3-point defense. Thibodeau said the Knicks’ “closeouts were short’’ on the 3-pointers. He also felt they didn’t grab a handful of loose balls and long rebounds that resulted in more Clipper 3s.
“Offensively it was good,’’ Thibodeau said. “Defensively it was not what we would’ve liked. [Scoring] 115 points should be good enough to get a win.’’
After the game, the Knicks flew to snowy Chicago, where Thibodeau did his best work in five seasons as head coach, fashioning a 394-255 record. Thibodeau lived in a high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan and was a toast of the town. The fans adored him, though they can’t cheer him Monday and Wednesday for the back-to-back with the Knicks.
Thibodeau is 9-12 in New York, yet earned a lot of trust from the fans. This loss wasn’t about coaching or rotations. (He called two timeouts 17 seconds apart in the fourth quarter.) Pat Riley, Red Holzman and Jeff Van Gundy could not have squeezed out a win the way the Clippers played.
“I spent a lot of time there and certainly enjoyed it,’’ Thibodeau said of Chicago. “It’s a great city, great organization, great tradition. I enjoyed my time in Chicago for sure.’’
With a core trio of Randle-Barrett-Quickley to work with, Thibodeau might have enjoyable times down the road, but the Clippers showed it’s a long one.
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