You would think that scoring 107.3 points per game over the last eight games would mean good things for any NBA team. But for the Knicks, it’s still not enough.
Their defense continues to be exploited by opponents. In that same span of eight games, they’re allowing 113.5 points per game, and are now 1-7 in those games.
As we take an aerial view of things, however, we see the offense has enough to keep pace with the poor defense for three-quarters of the game. Remember how in past years we had these maddening “Third-Quarter of Doom” issues?
Meet the Second-Quarter of Gloom.
Over the last eight games, the Knicks have been outscored by an average of 7.4 points per game in the second quarter. They’re allowing 30.4 points per game in the second, which is by far, their worst defensive quarter over that span of games.
“The second quarters have been hurting us some,” Jeff Hornacek admitted after he saw his team get outscored 29-14 in the second quarter in Indiana. That turned a four-point first quarter deficit into a 19-point hole by halftime.
While the starters haven’t been great on this stretch, the bench has struggled. The numbers don’t lie. Over these eight games, bench players are providing just 12.6 points in the second quarter and shooting 35% from the field. Willy Hernangomez, for instance, has missed all seven shot attempts he’s had in the second quarter over the last eight games.
Justin Holiday is 9-for-24 from the field and a -36 in 24 second-quarter minutes. Brandon Jennings is 4-for-14 and, more notably, Jennings is -40 in a team-high 58 minutes of second quarter time over that span.
“Second unit, again, we didn’t come out with a lot of intensity,” Jennings said after the loss in Indiana. “That’s one of the reasons why the lead got to where it was.”
Jennings says the offensive issues “dictates how our defense is” and added, “I think that’s wrong.” Jennings went on to have a 17-point fourth quarter and said the second unit needs to play fast like it did in that fourth quarter when the Knicks offense suddenly exploded for 39 points.
But is that fool’s gold? Where was that energy in the second quarter? Is the issue how Hornacek is running his rotations? We remember the fascinating “Euro ballers” lineup that we saw early in the season that we have never seen since.
Then there is the issue of Ron Baker. A night after his steady fourth quarter play helped lead the Knicks to a comeback win, he didn’t get off the bench until garbage time in the fourth. There was some curiosity to see if Hornacek would go to Baker in the second quarter as the first guard off the bench over Jennings. But Hornacek went with the veteran and the results were the same as the previous seven games. The Knicks fell behind and had to play an exhausting game of catch up.
“Once you’re down so much,” Kristaps Porzingis said, “it’s like you’re playing uphill.”
Porzingis needs to take ownership of the second quarter. In fact, Hornacek has generally used him at the start of those quarters to be the focal point along with the reserves. Porzingis averages the most second-quarter minutes on the team (8.9) and leads the team in second-quarter scoring (5.9 points). He is shooting 47% from the field in the second quarter.
But in the last eight games, where the trouble has emerged, Porzingis has played just five of them due to injury. In the game he has played, he’s shooting 55% while averaging 6.2 points in 10.1 minutes in second quarters. The second quarter is KP’s quarter, but it’s not a quarter the Knicks are winning.
Hornacek hinted at making adjustments to his rotation and perhaps even lineup changes and it may be time to follow through on this idea. Mindaugas Kuzminskas (24.4 points Per 36 and shooting 56.1% over the last 8 games) and Kyle O’Quinn (12.8 points and 10.7 rebounds Per 36 over the last 8 games) have numbers that beg for more opportunity.
And does Baker get another shot at playing earlier in the game and bringing defensive intensity and organizing an offense that can look so erratic at times? It should be noted that in 24 fourth-quarter minutes over the last two games, Baker is +30.
An organization always has to look in-house to find the solutions. Some fans ask me about Chasson Randle, who had a terrific preseason before an injury led him to be cut from the final roster. Randle is with the Westchester Knicks and is averaging 20.7 points and shooting over 40% from three-point range. No one is saying he, or Baker, is the answer to the problem, but could they at least provide the energy boost this team is clearly lacking? Especially in the second quarter?
We’ll have the pregame coverage with Knicks Game Night at 7 p.m. on MSG Network. You can expect my pregame Fix to include a lot of what we discussed here.