The Knicks have a veteran squad, yet treat the end of games as if they’re a bunch of neophytes.
Saturday night’s home loss to the lowly but frisky Phoenix Suns (14-29) was a microcosm of this troubled season, as the visitors came from behind to steal one in the Garden. Budding star swingman Devin Booker gave the Suns the lead for good when he canned the eventual game winner with 31 seconds remaining in front of a rather lax Derrick Rose, who admittedly noted afterwards that he closed out too late on the sharpshooter.
Carmelo Anthony’s potential game-winning 3-pointer then spun in, around, and out of the hoop in Knicks’ latest heartbreaker, a 107-105 last-second loss to the team current lead man Jeff Hornacek once steered. New York (19-26) was down two points with 6.3 seconds remaining when the maligned Anthony squared up for a great look behind the arc, just in front of his bench. Alas, the shot rimmed around the tin and popped out, falling harmlessly to the court as time expired.
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It was yet another crushing late-game defeat for the Knicks, snatching defeat from victory. But this time, there was no opposing assistant coach to blame, as the Knicks earned that loss – much the way they’ve earned every loss during its current stretch where they’ve dropped seven of their last 10 outings.
The Anthony dissenters will point to the fact that he was held without a point in the fourth quarter and limited to just one shot in that frame – which happened to be the final attempt. But the star forward can’t be totally faulted. Anthony scored 30 or more points in his third-straight home game for the first time in three years, and finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, while playing nearly 41 minutes. His efforts weren’t enough, as the outcome was the same, cruel ending – perhaps even crueler than recent losses to the Sixers and Hawks, as the faithful were almost treated to a rousing buzzer-beating win.
It wasn’t meant to be, as has most recent losses. And a couple of plays here and there down the stretch have seemingly haunted the squad. Defensive breakdowns and odd lineups have been the bane of the Knicks and their ardent followers, as New York is currently ranked 25th defensively. The breakdowns have happened at the most inopportune moments, but they can be explained. One of Hornacek’s favorite late-game lineups features Anthony, Rose, and backup point guard Brandon Jennings on the floor at once. All are considered poor defenders – and the defensive philosophy doesn’t help them either. Former interim head coach Kurt Rambis was retained on the staff after team president Phil Jackson hired Hornacek, who then named him the de facto defensive coordinator.
Rambis’philosophy of having weakside defenders cheat and overload a play in order to help out on the pick-and-roll – one of the Knicks’ most glaring defensive weaknesses – leaves the chance for wide-open looks from spot-up shooters waiting for a kick-out pass. Such a scenario occurred on Booker’s game-winner, as he was eagerly awaiting the pass while Rose had to scramble back to the shooter. Booker is too good of a shooter to be left open, as his performance as a 19-year old in last season’s All-Star Weekend can attest. Only Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” were ahead of him in the 3-point shootout.
Rambis’wrinkle, and the personnel on the floor in crunch time, have aided and abetted in the Knicks’ current late-game meltdowns. And if the Knicks don’t figure out something soon, this current slide will continue and there’ll be no hope for helping and recovering this season.
-The aforementioned opposing assistant coach who illegally had a hand in a recent home loss for the Knicks was punished by the league. Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe was fined $5,000 -- and the Wizards punished $15,000 -- for that last-possession stunt. It will still go down as a Knicks’ loss, as there will not be a protest of any kind.