Some games you give credit to a great shot, like the game-winner Giannis Antetokounmpo made at the buzzer for the Bucks. But in situations like this one, you don’t point the finger, you point the thumb.
“We just gave it away,” Lance Thomas said. “It should have never gotten to that point.”
We spent a fair amount of time on the Knicks Postgame Show reviewing a few questionable calls in the final seconds of this game, which led to the heartbreaking finish. There was the terrible non-call on an obvious foul by Antetokounmpo on Derrick Rose and a curious decision to stop counting the Mark Jackson Rule as Antetokounmpo backed down Thomas for eight seconds on the final shot — can’t wait to read the NBA’s L2M report today on these plays.
But none of that overshadowed the real focus of the frustration and the point of the game where this desperately-needed win was lost: the start of the fourth quarter.
After 48 hours of lamentations and re-dedication to defense, the Knicks put forth an honest effort through the first three-quarters and held a 14-point lead going into the fourth. When you’re at home, that’s when you, as Wally Szczerbiak often says, “step on the throat” and put the game away.
Instead, the Knicks failed to do so.
They turned the ball over four times and yielded a 14-2 run to start the final quarter and the road team, which should have emptied it’s bench by the mid-point of the quarter, had made it a game again.
The Knicks tried to hold them off. After a Carmelo Anthony follow-up dunk, the Knicks led 100-93 with 4:26 to go. They were outscored 12-4 the rest of the game. The Knicks fouled seven times in the fourth and the Bucks scored 10 of their 32 fourth-quarter points from the free throw line.
Melo had a 14-point third quarter to help build a commanding lead, but neither he nor Rose (15 points) could make plays in the fourth to secure the win.
“We had a spurt where we kind of took our foot off the gas,” Melo said.
It goes back to one of the least-talked about issues with this team that goes beyond defensive schemes or shooting percentages. A collective mental toughness.
“We still don’t have a killer instinct,” said rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who had 15 points in the first three-quarters, but was pulled at the start of the fourth after he played just one minute and was -8 in that time.
Kuz was one of several positive factors that were overshadowed by the heartbreaking loss. He had 11 points in the first half and played with great energy off the bench. He made 2-of-5 from downtown and, overall, the Knicks tied a season-high with 13 three-pointers on 28 attempts. They were 8-of-18 at the half from beyond the arc and it was a new look for a team that came into the night 19th in the NBA in three-point attempts per game.
Melo had his seventh 30-point performance of the season and also had 11 rebounds and 7 assists. He was a plus-5 in 37 minutes. Joakim Noah was a monster on the boards again with 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass, in 31 minutes. Thomas and Courtney Lee had very good moments of solid defense.
But none of it seemed to matter once Antetokounmpo’s shot rattled in at the buzzer.
And that mental toughness we discussed will now be tested, as the Knicks (16-19), with six straight losses, can’t dwell on this loss. They have to respond to it and, fortunately (or not?), they get to see the Bucks again on Friday in the second game of this home-and-home.
“I hope that we’ll have revenge in Milwaukee,” Kuzminskas said.
There is a good chance Kristaps Porzingis (sore Achilles) will be back in the lineup for that game. He is expected to practice Thursday to see how he feels. We will have the coverage Friday night on Knicks Game Night starting at 7:30 p.m. on MSG Network.