CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Knicks took part in another emotional ceremony honoring Kobe Bryant on Tuesday night, but they were unable to pull out their second straight victory.
Julius Randle, a former teammate of Bryant’s for two seasons with the Lakers, netted 18 of his 24 points in the first half a few hours after expressing his devastation over the NBA legend’s death on Sunday.
But Terry Rozier (30 points) led a comeback from an early 13-point deficit and sank four free throws in the closing seconds for the Hornets, who halted an eight-game skid with a 97-92 victory in their return home after losing Friday in Paris to Milwaukee.
This game started similarly for the Knicks to Sunday’s win over the Nets at the Garden, with a pregame tribute and nods by both teams to Bryant. Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham ran out the 24-second shot clock, while Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton took an 8-second back court violation, representing the two numbers Kobe wore over his 20-year career with the Lakers.
Marcus Morris added 23 points for the Knicks, but he had a potential four-point play overturned with 1:56 remaining when officials ruled after a video review that he had committed an offensive foul.
Morris had said after Sunday’s win over the Nets that he wished the Knicks hadn’t played mere hours after Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California.
“I think they handled it as well as anybody could,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said before Tuesday’s game. “I think I really saw that as kind of a tribute [to Bryant]. I listened to different shows and different things, and they talked about how he handled himself and what he did. I think it was a tribute to him in how they went out and handled themselves.”
Miller also agreed that Monday’s cancellation of practice was “what our team needed” before stressing, “Now it’s time to play.”
Randle, who said before the game that he “worshipped the ground” Bryant walked on both as a childhood fan and a teammate, netted 12 points in the first quarter as the Knicks opened a quick 24-11 lead. But the Hornets closed to within 50-47 at halftime, carried a 68-66 through three quarters and led by as many as 10 in the final period.
Dennis Smith Jr., who played at nearby N.C. State, was the first point guard off the bench for the Knicks and finished with seven points in 15 minutes. Frank Ntilikina (three points) didn’t play until 3:44 remained in the fourth quarter.