CHICAGO – It wasn’t the main reason the Knicks collapsed Wednesday night. But it sure encapsulated the embarrassment of a fourth quarter that should be celebrated in the Hall of Ineptitude.
With eight seconds remaining and a 3-point deficit, Jeff Hornacek drew up a play out of a timeout for the potential tying bucket. Michael Beasley struggled to get off the inbounds pass, but eventually found Enes Kanter alone at the top of the arc.
Between the coach and the players in the locker room, there was some discrepancy about the play. Jeff Hornacek said he drew it up for Doug McDermott, who couldn’t get free off Kanter’s weak screen. Others said Kristaps Porzingis was the No. 1 option.
The confusion after the game was telling.
Either way, the ball ended up in the hands of Kanter, the same Kanter who attempted one 3-point shot all season and missed it. Predictably, he missed this one, too (badly), and the Knicks lost an absolute disaster, 92-87.
“(Hornacek) said that if Kristaps is not open, if Doug is not open, just pop and shoot the 3,” Kanter said. “And I said, ‘OK, and I just popped and shot the 3.”
Added Hornacek, “I’m all right with Enes taking that shot. He can shoot threes. But not as the main option.”
Again, this wasn’t the reason the Knicks (17-17) lost. They missed their final eight field goals and scored one measly point in the final four-plus minutes. They blew a 15-point lead and they lost to a Chicago team (12-22) playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“We got to learn how to kill teams. We’re up 20 points sometimes and we don’t kill the bird. We’re not good at that,” Beasley said.
More relevant than that deficiency, though, is New York’s 2-11 record on the road. Wednesday kicked off a period of 25 games with 19 away from the Garden, a make-or-break string ending just before the All-Star break that will determine whether this franchise should be concentrating more on the draft lottery.
A loss to the Bulls is a bad omen.
Jeff Hornacek shook up the starting lineup a little by giving McDermott the nod at small forward over Lance Thomas. The idea was to give the starting lineup an added scoring punch, and also to match up Thomas – a defensive specialist – against Chicago’s reserve sparkplug Nikola Mirotic.
The move worked out in that the Knicks led by 11 in the first quarter and Mirotic was held to just four points. But everything fizzled down the stretch. Porzingis scored a game-high 23 points but just 2 in the fourth quarter. McDermott committed two costly turnovers.
Hornacek said the offense stagnated because the Knicks forced the ball into Porzingis. Then he questioned the team’s toughness.
Doubt is seeping in.
“Sometimes maybe you don’t understand late in games how physical it’s going to be, you go up for shots you got to be strong,” Hornacek said. “You got to expect you’re going to get hit. You’ve got to finish. You’ve got to go aggressive. If you play slow late in the games they’re going to get all over you, it’s going to be tough.”
“You start to wonder (if the Knicks aren’t mentally strong enough to win on the road),” the coach added. “Just be confident. We want them to be confident with their shooting. We ended up 4-for-23 from three-point line, a lot of those were open. We also got to make some shots. Not let it come down to end of games all the time and just that toughness of loose balls, getting the big rebound. Enes comes out of every game with a bloody face. He’s getting hit, and I don’t think they’re calling it. We got to be more physical and hit guys. That’s all across the board we need to do that.”