Their All-Star played half the game like he was MIA. They managed, again, to turn certain victory into defeat. Players used words and phrases like “most embarrassing.” There was a call, legal it turned out, unlike anything seen in a while that had a crippling effect on their momentum.
But one silver lining emerged for the Knicks from their disastrous 99-96 defeat to the Hawks Sunday at the Garden:
It took the Jan. 14 stomach-turning 123-118 overtime defeat to New Orleans off the hook as their worst loss of the season.
Now back to the dark-cloud side of things for the Knicks. They are lost and seem totally befuddled on how to fix their mess. And there is precious little time left.
So a quick review on that whole pingpong ball lottery thing…
The Knicks fell to 23-31 and four full games behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Assume a .500 record is required to make the playoffs. That means the Knicks have to finish 18-10. Do-able? Look at the remaining schedule. They still have road games at Toronto, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Cleveland, a three-game West trek with the Clippers, Kings, and Blazers and two games in Philadelphia. At home they still have the likes of the Bucks twice, Celtics, Warriors, Pistons, Heat…
You get the idea. Remember, they can’t lose more than 10 games for .500. So when they face teams like the Hawks, they must win. And when they have a six-point lead with 2:15 left, they must win. But they just are not good enough.
Fans wanted to blame the refs. With 3:49 left, Kent Bazemore was fouled shooting a 3. He went to the line, took two shots, missed both. Tim Hardaway scored at the other end on what would have been Porzingis’ only assist of the game. Hardaway was fouled. But the refs caught their free-throw mistake. By the rule book — Rule 2, Section 6, paragraph A, subsection f if you must — the Knicks basket was waved off because it came within 24 seconds of the correctable mistake.
Bazemore got — and made — his final attempt.
“We caught a break there, no doubt about it,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
“It was obviously a big play, but still with that we have a lead and we didn’t finish it,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Both coaches were dead on correct. Remember, the Knicks were up six after Kyle O’Quinn scored at 2:15. That echoed being up 19 late in the third quarter, being up nine with 4:26 left in regulation against the Pelicans. And losing. Like Sunday.
“For me personally, I wouldn’t say tough, I would say the most embarrassing game that we lost being in the situation where … there was time to score and we just didn’t capitalize on opportunities,” Courtney Lee said. “You can’t lose a game like that.”
But they did.
“We also got to execute better. If I had the answer it would be easier. I don’t have the answer,” Porzingis said.
Porzingis started the season like he was determined to be inducted into Springfield by March. But that has slowed. Scouts have suggested he looks tired and at 22 with a slender build, he is fully realizing the burden Carmelo Anthony felt trying to carry a franchise. Anthony had Porzingis as a two-year sidekick. This year, Porzingis has Hardaway, who missed 20 games with a lower-leg stress injury and, for the last three games has been shockingly invisible, shooting 5-of-33.
It leaves Porzingis, and the Knicks, bewildered, at best.
“Honestly, the feeling is that I can’t even process that we lost. I can’t believe it,” Porzingis said. “It was our game. It was 100 percent our game. Stuff happened quick and, boom, it was over. We’re learning how to win.”
Actually, they’re learning how to lose. Over and over.