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The New York Knicks entered Wednesday night having lost eight of their last nine games, coming off a dispiriting defeat on their home floor, and dealing with the aftermath of point guard Derrick Rose leaving the team without letting anyone know because he felt he needed to be with his family amid an emotional episode during which he reportedly considered retirement. Luckily, the Knicks’ Wednesday night opponents were the 10-25 Philadelphia 76ers; with Rose back in the fold, surely, things couldn’t get any worse.
But then … these are the Knicks.
With 27 seconds left, the Knicks had the ball, a one-point lead and a chance to get off the schneid after a pair of blowout losses. Rose worked in the high screen-and-roll with Carmelo Anthony, dribbling left toward the baseline and drawing three 76er defenders. He spotted a release valve in teammate Brandon Jennings and rifled a pass out to the top of the arc, where the backup point guard redirected it to the short corner, where sophomore Kristaps Porzingis stood all alone in front of the Philly bench. He caught, rose, fired and hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, in this case, I mean that literally.
Porzingis airballed his corner 3, and Rose’s attempt to corral the miss resulted in tipping the ball out to Sixers guard Gerald Henderson. The veteran dribbled the ball into the frontcourt, as Philly chose not to call a timeout, preferring to attack the Knicks’ unsettled defense in transition. Henderson handed the ball off to Ersan Ilyasova, who quickly pushed it over to point guard T.J. McConnell along the baseline. The Arizona product dribbled into Anthony, spun back and launched a fadeaway 12-footer with no time remaining.
Unlike Porzingis, McConnell’s try actually went through the rim before touching nylon, giving the Sixers a 98-97 victory and sending McConnell, his teammates and the fans at Wells Fargo Center into hysterics after Philly’s first game-winning buzzer-beater in nearly three years:
As he has all season, Joel Embiid led the way, bouncing back from the kind of decidedly non-All-Starry rim-check that surely won’t curry favor with his mystery celebrity crush …
… by scoring eight points in the final 2:29 to help spur Philadelphia’s comeback and finish with 21 points (albeit on 7-for-20 shooting) and a career-high 14 rebounds in 27 minutes. He’s now scored 20 or more points in seven straight games, despite playing 30 or fewer minutes in all of them; that’s the longest such streak since the NBA started tracking minutes played all the way back in 1951, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Frontcourt partners Ilyasova and Robert Covington combined for 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, while Henderson (12 points on 5-for-10 shooting) and Nerlens Noel (13 points, eight rebounds, two steals) made their presence felt off Brett Brown’s bench. McConnell finished with eight points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals for the Sixers, who won after trailing by 15 points for the first time in 79 games, and who have won four of their last five to improve to 11-25.
For all the things that have been chaotic or weird this season in Philly, headlined by the still-unresolved frontcourt logjam created by the successive high-lottery additions of Noel, Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, Brown’s club has bested last season’s win total with 46 games still left to play. Based on that and the emergence of Embiid as one of most remarkably productive and energizing talents to enter the league in years, the Sixers could mark this year as a success … and we haven’t even seen 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons yet.
And then, on the other hand, there’s the Knicks.
The Knicks, who gave up 18 offensive rebounds and put the Sixers on the line 21 times, helping Philly make up for a poor shooting night that saw them hit just 39 percent of their field-goal attempts as a team. The Knicks, who led this game by 17 points with 5:08 to go in the second quarter, and who squandered the entirety of that lead in less than 6 1/2 minutes of game time.
The Knicks, who led this game by 13 points after a Joakim Noah layup with 8:18 to go, and by 10 after another Noah layup with 2:29 remaining. The Knicks, who allowed a 76ers club that entered Monday ranked dead last in the NBA in points scored per possession to close the game on a 15-4 run, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, 2-for-2 from 3-point range and 3-for-3 from the foul line.
The Knicks, who absolutely, positively cannot get stops, who are now separated from a 10-game losing streak by the extremely thin barrier of one borderline-miraculous fourth-quarter comeback in Milwaukee, and who now sit at 17-22, 2 1/2 games back of the East’s No. 8 seed, less than a month after sitting alone in third.
“We should tell ourselves this was unacceptable,” said Anthony, who finished with a game-high 28 points on 11-for-25 shooting.
Losing this way, to this team, after the past few days, sure didn’t seem to sit well with Anthony:
Lip readers blushed on shot of Melo an instant after buzzer. pic.twitter.com/wXs8VIdwt8
— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) January 12, 2017
… though perhaps he was just lashing out in anticipation of a post-game edit to McConnell’s Wikipedia page highlighting the way the guard worked Melo for the game-winning bucket …
… but it’s par for the course for a team that allows bad offenses to score freely, that can’t clean the defensive glass, that stagnates offensively in crunch time and that much more frequently seems to put itself in position to lose than the other way around.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek told reporters after the game, describing the wild final possession. “You know, if [Porzingis’] shot hits the rim and bounces up in the air with three seconds to go, they probably have to call a timeout. But the way it bounced around and kicked right out, [Henderson’s] able to just go with it. Even with that, I thought we got back pretty decently, but then [McConnell] went to the baseline and did the little turnaround there.”
It’s perhaps worth wondering whether Porzingis — who struggled all night long on both ends of the floor, finishing with seven points on 3-for-10 shooting in 28 minutes — would’ve been so short on his jumper had he not entered the game ice-cold after riding the bench for the preceding six minutes and 15 seconds of game time and about 20 minutes of real time.
“Maybe I put KP in a bad position,” Hornacek allowed, before adding: “We made the right play at the last one. Derrick penetrated, they came over and he kicked out to Brandon, he swung it over to KP. It was just, you know, one of those things.”
Rose looked good offensively in his return to the lineup, playing the whole first quarter and scoring 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting with three assists en route to 25 points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal in 32 minutes of work.
He made a pair of shots that could have served as daggers — a pullup jumper to put New York up six with 1:24 left, a knifing driving reverse layup around Embiid to put the Knicks up by three with 34 seconds to go — but also failed to stay in front of Henderson on the ensuing possession and fouled him, sending him to the line for two freebies that cut the lead to one and gave the Sixers life … provided, of course, “one of those things” managed to happen in the closing seconds.
“Those things” sure seem to pile up for the Knicks, especially on the defensive end:
This quote from Courtney Lee stands out to me:
"We gotta change our mentality. It should be defense first." pic.twitter.com/coCvWYwMpf
— Mike Vorkunov (@Mike_Vorkunov) January 12, 2017
If the lacking defensive effort doesn’t change, neither will the Knicks’ fortunes, and the losses — even to largely punchless cellar-dwellars like the 76ers — will continue to mount.
“We can’t wait for things to fall our way and get the breaks,” Hornacek said after the game. “We have to make our own breaks. And that’s what I think — we’re hoping to have the breaks fall our way. We can’t do that. We have to go out there and compete, and when you’ve got a lead, have that focus of, ‘OK, we’re going to get a stop. If that ball goes out there, we’ve got to be an animal to go get that ball.’ We’ve got to figure out how to create our own breaks.”
Lee described his team’s predicament more succinctly.
“This s*** is definitely embarrassing,” he said.
Well, look on the bright side, guys. Surely, it can’t get any worse than this.
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