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The New York Knicks’ explanation of their late-game collapse nearly defies explanation

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Mike Woodson searches for the words. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

That the New York Knicks lost on Monday isn't surprising. The Knicks have lost 17 times in 24 games, sit five games below .500 both at home and on the road, have the league's fourth-worst defense in terms of points allowed per possession, and are only marginally better at scoring the ball (19th among 30 NBA teams, according to NBA.com's stat tool). The Knicks are bad; that they lost on Monday isn't newsworthy.

The way they lost, though? Allowing a nearly uncontested game-winning layup by Wizards guard Bradley Beal despite having a foul to give, then coming completely unglued in the final seven seconds and settling for an off-balance 25-foot runner by Carmelo Anthony (despite having three timeouts) that didn't come close? That's some headline-grabbing business.

If you'd like to refresh your memory:

So, after the dust had settled on a 102-101 defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, how did the Knicks go about explaining a final-seconds disintegration so staggering as to seem intentional? In a quintessentially baffling and thoroughly unsatisfying manner, of course.

(You'll note that there's no explanation tendered below for why/how the Knicks failed to execute a two-for-one despite having the ball with 45 seconds left and the score tied at 100 after a Beal 3-pointer. Which, y'know, stands to reason.)

The first question that coach Mike Woodson was asked during his post-game press conference, as you might expect, dealt with his thought process in not having his Knicks commit a foul to prevent the Beal layup despite New York having a foul to give, and not taking a timeout to advance the ball past half court and draw up a potential game-winning play with seven seconds left despite having three timeouts remaining.

"I mean, we said all those things," Woodson said. "I probably should have taken, for sure, the timeout there at the end. But, y'know, Beno [Udrih] grabbed it and [the ball] was in 'Melo's hands before I could even react to it. I should have reacted a lot sooner once the ball went through the bucket. So that's on me.

"You know, it had nothing to do with the timeout," Woodson continued. "You know, I mean, we knew we had a foul to give, but Beno opened the floodgates on the one, when [Beal] caught it on the side. It was just ... it happened so fast. And he's thinking the help was there, and it wasn't there, so he couldn't even reach to grab the guy to take the foul. So that's where the breakdown occurred. I mean, we all knew we had a foul to give, but we didn't even get a chance to use it. And then I didn't call the timeout, so I've got to take the heat for that."

We don't know what Udrih thought about "opening the floodgates," failing to take the foul and not having any help behind him. He wasn't made available to reporters following a game in which he played the final 21:49 after Pablo Prigioni — starting in place of the injured Raymond Felton — suffered a broken right big toe that's expected to keep him out for the next two weeks. The other point guard in a Knicks uniform on Monday, rookie Toure' Murry, is a 6-foot-5-inch, 24-year-old who earned a job this summer by showing a propensity for hard-nosed defense during Summer League and preseason play. He did not take off his warmups on Monday, despite Udrih showing signs of fatigue several minutes before Beal's final blow-by.

About Woodson's "we said all those things" remark:

But that's not really the coaching staff's fault, according to J.R. Smith, via Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:

“As soon as the ball went through the net I was expecting to call timeout, but we have to do a better job as players,” said Smith, who broke out of a shooting slump with 18 points on 5-of-11 three-pointers, while adding six assists and three steals in the loss. “We knew we had three timeouts. We have guys who [have] been in this league, 11, 10 years. We were on the floor. We just have to do a better job of that. We can’t put everything in coach’s hand because he’s out there thinking and reacting like we are. We have to do a better job as players and be generals out there.” [...]

“Woody is going to put it on himself that he should have called timeout but we as players know we should have called timeout regardless of the situation,” Smith said. “We knew we had three timeouts with six seconds left on the clock. We have to do a better job of that.”

Anthony, for his part, didn't seem entirely sure which side of the fence to stand on. From the Daily News' Frank Isola:

“I think we was expecting a timeout,” Anthony said. “I think everything happened so fast. I don’t know.” [...]

Anthony at first said “we were supposed to call a timeout,” but after being told that Woodson had accepted responsibility for the mixup, Anthony replied: “If he said it’s his fault, it’s his fault. There’s no need for me to talk about that or make excuses for it. He said that was his fault, he’ll take the blame, then he takes the blame.

“As players we got to be smart enough to know as well — time, score and situation. In a situation like that we knew we had timeouts, we knew we had fouls to give at the end of the game. We can’t leave it on the coach to do it.”

Anthony continued with a fairly tepid vote of confidence in Woodson's continued employment, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley: "As far as I'm concerned, he's secure right now. I haven't heard anything. There's nothing to discuss. He's our coach, and we're rolling with him."

For how long, of course, remains to be seen. Knicks owner James Dolan's reputation as a fickle sort prone to rash decision-making precedes him, but even his most ardent critics would have a hard time blasting him for wanting to make a change after watching such a fundamental meltdown and listening to everyone involved do such a lukewarm job of sharing the blame without assuming actual accountability.

The prospect of a Woodson firing followed by a third stint as interim coach for longtime assistant Herb Williams isn't exactly sending shockwaves of excitement through Knicks fandom. It also wouldn't address the team construction issues (no defensive bigs besides Tyson Chandler, roster-mandated reliance on Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire at center, few capable defenders anywhere on the roster, barely any depth to speak of, dubiously spending a roster spot on J.R.'s barely D-League-capable brother Chris Smith, etc.) that have helped contribute to the Knicks' disastrous start. Nor would it reflect how horrendous Felton, Smith, Iman Shumpert and Metta World Peace have been at shooting the ball, even when the ball movement's been good enough to provide open looks. There's a lot of stuff going wrong, and not all of it should fall on Woodson.

It might, however, indicate that the front office has been paying attention to the Knicks' repeated execution miscues and decided that someone has to be held accountable for near-constant disorganization that manifests in stuff like not calling a timeout to settle things down even when the players on the floor seem to have no idea what's up. Or not intentionally fouling terrible free-throw shooter Andre Drummond while trying to mount a comeback against the Detroit Pistons. Or intentionally fouling Dwight Howard inside the final two minutes, granting the Houston Rockets a technical free-throw and an extra possession.

Or fouling Paul George on a 3-pointer late in regulation that led to overtime and a loss. Or the consistent late-game isolations that have resulted in contested misses like the one against the Denver Nuggets. Or the nightly defensive breakdowns that result in two or more Knicks pointing at an open man rising for an uncontested shot or loping blithely to the basket. (We can keep going if you'd like.) Firing Woodson probably wouldn't solve all that, but it might at least suggest that out-to-lunch ownership recognizes that it's happening in the first place. That'd be something, I suppose.

The most damning explanations for Monday's debacle, and the ones that rang truest, came from the Wizards themselves, who praised coach Randy Wittman for drawing up a play chock full of off-ball movement that drew Knick attention, but also damned New York in no uncertain terms. From Jeffrey Bernstein of The Associated Press:

"I knew in the huddle that if I came off the pick and roll, they were probably going to double me," Beal said. "My first instinct was to reject the screen and go baseline if I had it. There was absolutely nobody even paying attention, so I just drove it in there."

From Mike Prada of Bullets Forever:

"I don't know what they were trying to do," [Marcin] Gortat said. "They screwed up."

"They had no idea what was going on," Beal said. "They had no idea where the ball was." [...]

Beal said he knew the Knicks had a foul to give and didn't use it, but had no idea about the timeout situation until after someone told him.

"Did they really?" Beal said with a shocked look on his face, as if he was being told Santa Claus didn't exist. "Oh. Oh wow." A few seconds passed as Beal stood there stunned. "Man, that would have changed a few things."

Maybe it would have, Bradley. The fact that it didn't could change a few other things in the days ahead.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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