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After firing Derek Fisher and elevating associate head coach Kurt Rambis to the head of the New York Knicks bench, Phil Jackson said he made the change to try to shake the sinking Knicks, losers of nine of their last 10, into better starts, a stronger defensive disposition, and better finishes to games. Rambis didn't get much of the first two for most of the night, but he nearly got the third ... only to come up just short.
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After a pair of free throws by All-Star point guard John Wall gave the Washington Wizards a 111-108 lead with 4.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Knicks had no timeouts and one last chance to extend the game. Needing to go the length of the floor and find a 3, the Knicks exploited a Washington miscue — after Wizards forward Otto Porter failed to foul New York point guard Jose Calderon, Wall stepped up to do the job, leaving Knicks guard Langston Galloway wiiiiiide open on the right wing. Galloway, a 37.5 percent 3-point shooter on the season, rose up ...
... and was just short on his try, catching the front of the rim and not getting the friendly bounce on the carom, locking in a Wizards win. The Knicks dropped their sixth straight game and 10th in 11 tries, as Rambis fell to 0-1 as New York's interim head coach.
While the Knicks deserve credit for erasing an early 16-point deficit and climbing out of a 10-point hole in the final two minutes to have a chance to knot it at the horn, the first game of the Rambis era bore a striking resemblance to the last contests of Fisher's days.
New York once again came out sluggish and flat, seeming to move at half-speed through their offensive actions while also failing to get back in transition, leading to easy layups and uncontested 3-pointers for a Wizards club that shot 65 percent from the field en route to a 35-21 lead after 12 minutes. The Knicks got on track offensively in the second quarter, with Anthony — who played the first 16 minutes of the game, despite recently dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee — and shooting guard Arron Afflalo leading the charge, but continued to struggle containing Washington on the other end, as the Wiz kept shooting the lights out from long distance (10-for-12 from 3 in the first half) with Wall repeatedly generating just about whatever shot he wanted out of the pick-and-roll.
That was a persistent problem for the Knicks all night long. Wall, it turns out, is really, really good, and a Knicks backcourt that has struggled all season — and, really, for several seasons — to credibly defend opposing guards had little success deterring him, as he rolled up 28 points and 17 assists, with 10 directly leading to 3-pointers, to go with five rebounds, one steal and only one turnover in 43 brilliant minutes:
Even with Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal (26 points on 8-for-14 shooting, four steals) scorching the Nets, New York was able to crawl back into the game. The Knicks outscored the Wiz 33-20 after intermission, thanks in part to a renewed focus on the importance of getting back in transition — Rambis credited a halftime video session for getting the players on point; Sasha Vujacic called the Knicks' first-half transition D "embarrassing."
In another holdover from Fisher's days, the Knicks again seemed to shift toward a more pick-and-roll-heavy offensive attack as the game progressed and tended to find cleaner and higher-value looks, which helped lead to 14 third-quarter points from the previously quiet Kristaps Porzingis, who started punishing the shorter Jared Dudley (who'd worked the rookie over in the early going) and the slower Marcin Gortat whenever his teammates would find him on a mismatch.
Down the stretch, though, it was Washington's All-Star point man who carried the day. Wall made or assisted on all of the Wizards' last five baskets, including this stepback killer over the outstretched arm of Porzingis:
John Wall got Porzingis with this step back… pic.twitter.com/MlgmlE71yO
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) February 10, 2016
... and made all four of his free throws in the final seven seconds, helping keep the Wizards up and making sure the Knicks needed a late-game prayer. Galloway, who'd mixed the good (14 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals off the bench, a huge tough 3 to get New York within one with eight seconds left) with the bad (a costly turnover that scuttled a fast break just six seconds earlier) got one last great and clean look, but just couldn't convert, sending the Knicks to yet another loss, dropping them to 23-32 on the season.
During an in-game interview with MSG Network's Al Trautwig, Jackson said he didn't expect the Knicks to look drastically different under Rambis on Tuesday than they did under Fisher on Sunday; change takes time, the Zen Master said. But with a stated goal of making a playoff push, five games now separating New York from the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons and only 27 games remaining, time isn't on the Knicks' side, and while it's tough to take too much from one game, Tuesday's performance sure made it seem like the slow starts, spotty defense and scattershot finishes didn't leave town when Fisher did.
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