John Wall and a wild final minute hand the Knicks another disappointing loss

Ball Don't Lie

The New York Knicks had trailed by as many as 16 points on Thursday night before clawing back to retake the lead in the final minute, and trailed the Washington Wizards by just one with under 30 seconds left to go in their nationally televised matchup at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had the ball and a chance to win … until John Wall took both away, snatching Brandon Jennings’ soul and the Garden’s breath in the process:

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Knicks star Carmelo Anthony isolated on the left wing against Washington’s Otto Porter with just under 24 seconds left on the clock and New York trailing, 111-110. (Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek would later say the play wasn’t intended to be an iso, but ‘Melo “saw an advantage.”) With the whole left side of the floor cleared, Anthony went to work, dribbling toward the baseline and trying to create enough separation from the 6-foot-8-inch Porter to shoot a midrange jumper for the lead. Porter stayed close, though, forcing Anthony into a contested look that went long, clanging off the heel of the rim and bouncing out toward the free-throw line.

The Knicks’ chances came down to a 50-50 ball, with point guards Wall and Derrick Rose both vying for possession. Wall won out, grabbing the ball out of the air before turning and realizing that only Brandon Jennings stood between him and a fast-break finish that could all but ice the game.

Wall dribbled to his left. Jennings lunged that way, aiming to grab Wall for an intentional foul that would put the Wizards star on the line. Instead, Wall quickly and deftly went behind the back to his right hand, teleporting around Jennings at half court before racing ahead of the pack and throwing down a two-handed dunk that extended Washington’s lead to three points with 13.7 seconds left.

The Knicks had one more opportunity to knot up the game, but once again, Wall was there:

Anthony dribbled against Washington’s Markieff Morris on the right wing before driving left into the paint before kicking the ball out to Courtney Lee in the left corner. Lee appeared to be open to attempt a corner 3 that would’ve given the Knicks a chance to tie; instead, he pump-faked, dribbled around the closeout of Kelly Oubre Jr., and fired a cross-court pass to Jennings on the right wing. Jennings caught the pass with 2.5 seconds left and Wall all over him. As he rose up to try to fire a 3, Wall swiped down with his right hand, jarring the ball loose so that teammate Bradley Beal could knock it into the frontcourt, allowing the last few ticks of the clock to elapse and the Wizards to finish off a 113-110 win.

Washington has now won four straight and seven of eight overall to improve to 23-19. Scott Brooks’ club now sits just one game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 4 seed in the East. The Knicks, on the extreme other end of the spectrum, managed to come up with yet another way to lose in the midst of a brutal run of on– and off-court dysfunction.

This time, they squandered a record-setting performance by Anthony, who bounced back from this atrocious first-quarter airball of a two-foot jumper …

… to set a new Knicks mark for most points scored in a quarter by pouring in 25 on 10-for-12 shooting in the second frame alone …

… thanks in part to ‘Melo going ice cold afterward (just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting in the second half) and characteristically poor team defense that allowed Washington to score 100 points through three quarters, putting the Knicks behind the 8-ball heading into the home stretch.

Wall’s closing-minute excellence saved the Wizards after they’d played brutal ball through the first 11 minutes of the final frame, scoring just nine points and committing five turnovers that allowed New York to get within arm’s reach of victory before he stepped up. He finished with 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting, 13 assists, five rebounds, three steals and just two turnovers in 37 minutes of work.

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But while Wall certainly put his fingerprints all over the win, eagle-eyed observers might have also noticed that he got a little too handsy with the rock after maneuvering past Jennings on the break:

Had Wall’s self-pass been picked up in real time, the proper call would have been a double-dribble and a turnover. That would have taken the ball away from Washington, taken the two points from his dunk off the board, and returned possession to the Knicks with a one-point deficit and somewhere around 15 seconds remaining.

Picking up that violation as it happens, though, is much, much easier said than done:

(This is where I reiterate: I really do not envy NBA officials.)

That’s a relatively minor matter, though, compared to Lee’s decision to pull the ball down rather than rising and firing the open corner 3 that could have tied the game. As it turns out, there was a reason Lee didn’t pull the trigger:

And, sure enough, Lee was right:

From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“If that was their tactic, their defensive scheme, it worked,” Lee said. “Because I thought that was a defensive player.” […]

“I think it’s something (the league) needs to take a look at,” Lee said. “Being a basketball player, you play off instincts, and if you hear somebody right there. That’s why I tried to make the right play. But I still should have shot it.” […]

“I’ve never been in that situation, I’ve never seen it before,” he said. “It’s not an excuse. We waited too long to put our foot on the gas. If I’m in that position again, one of the assistant coaches told me if you just run into the coach if he’s on the floor, it’s a technical foul. I’ll make sure to glance over and do that next time.”

(Clearly, Lee needs to brush up on his Jason Kidd history. You’re not alone, Giannis!)

Coaches aggressively “closing out” on opposing shooters near their benches is nothing new. ESPN’s Zach Lowe has chronicled this sort of thing for years, and who among us can forget Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s impassioned work in shadow-defending an inbounds pass against the Dallas Mavericks last season? Still, though, crossing over onto the court during play to act as a sixth man seems like an especially egregious flouting of the rules — and, for what it’s worth, there are a few chunks of the NBA’s rule book that would seem to apply here.

“All assistants and trainers must remain on the bench,” for one. “Any club personnel not seated on the bench must conduct themselves in a manner that would reflect favorably on the dignity of the game and the officials” is a good one. “A technical foul shall be assessed for unsportsmanlike tactics such as […] (5) A coach entering onto the court without permission of an official” works, too.

Had any ref realized that Lowe was literally on the court, within contesting distance of Lee in the corner — perhaps even the one who was standing that close to Lowe, too — any of those passages would seem to have granted sufficient cover to, if nothing else, stop the play, sort things out, and get the ball back to the Knicks to take another crack at it. Instead, though, Lee pulled it down — something he said multiple times after the game he shouldn’t have done, emphasizing that he wasn’t trying to use Lowe’s intercession as an excuse — and the Wiz got their stop.

“It’s good to get a road win. We’ve had so many last-second shots on the road that didn’t go our way,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after the game, according to Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press. “It’s nice to get a close-out tonight.”

Scott Brooks might not have seen what he did there, but we did.

In sum, as Al Iannazzone of Newsday put it: “the Knicks couldn’t get the stops they needed, couldn’t score when they needed to and got distracted by the presence of an assistant coach.” All par for the course for a team that can never just seem to lose, but that instead always must surround its Ls with a brand of weirdness rarely seen elsewhere in NBA life. The Knicks, inescapably, remain the Knicks.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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