Tom Thibodeau likes to preach that an NBA team still can play well even if it’s not shooting well.
The Knicks’ wayward shooting performance in their final game of 2020 was too historically disastrous for any team to withstand.
The squad that surprisingly began the night leading the league in 3-point shooting (45.9 percent) connected on just three of 36 attempts from long distance — a franchise-record low 8.3 percent — Thursday in a 100-83 loss to the COVID-relocated Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
“We were in the game, but obviously going 3-for-36 from the 3-point line doesn’t help,” Julius Randle said. “Overall, we felt like it was a very winnable game for us. … We just have to continue that throughout the course of the second half when we’re not hitting shots.
“I think it’ll be very rare for us to go 3-for-36 from the three-point line. So we’ll be fine. We’re encouraged. Get back to it.”
The Knicks’ starting lineup finished the game an astonishing 0-for-23 from 3-point range, including nine straight misses by Reggie Bullock and eight by RJ Barrett, who has missed his last 21 three-point attempts over four games.
The 0-for-23 mark by the starters also represents the most misses without a make by a starting five in NBA history.
“I think we were shooting 47 percent from 3 the first four games and we got high-quality shots. I thought we got high-quality shots again tonight,” Thibodeau said. “I want to look at the film before I comment further on that. But yeah, that’s part of the NBA game.”
Randle paced the Knicks (2-3) with 16 points and 10 rebounds before he hobbled off the court with 3:24 to play with what he and the Knicks said were cramps.
Tampa native Kevin Knox, whose parents were among the estimated 3,800 fans in attendance, added 16 points off the bench. Knox also underwent X-rays on his right hand at halftime, but they came back negative.
With four guards sidelined by injuries, nine-year veteran Austin Rivers totaled seven points and five assists in 21 minutes off the bench in his Knicks debut after missing the entire preseason and the first four games with a groin injury.
All-Star forward Pascal Siakam was a late scratch for Toronto reportedly for disciplinary reasons; he walked off the court directly to the locker room after he fouled out of Tuesday’s loss to Philadelphia.
Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 25 points and seven assists, while Kyle Lowry scored 20 and Norman Powell added 17 in Toronto’s ninth straight win over the Knicks.
The Knicks bricked nine of their first 10 shots and shot just 30.4 percent (7-for-24) from the floor in the first quarter, but Knox nailed a couple of late 3-pointers to draw them within four points (22-18) entering the second.
Despite their continued shooting woes, the Knicks led by as many as seven in the third quarter, but Alex Len netted 10 points as the Raptors closed the session on a 26-12 run for a 71-64 lead entering the final quarter.
Rivers’ 3-pointer 1:33 into the fourth ended a string of 20 straight long-range misses for the Knicks, but 3-pointers by Chris Boucher and VanVleet boosted Toronto’s lead to 14 with under six minutes remaining.
“We emphasize the open three, the layups and the drive to the basket to try to get to the free throw line. It’s all part of the offense,” Thibodeau said. “We always feel that if we defend, rebound and keep our turnovers down, that will put us in a position to win. I felt we had a shot at this.
“We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’ll learn from it and continue to focus on improvement.”