As Carmelo Anthony sat on the scorer’s table with a blank stare as yet another opponent celebrated a last-second win on The Garden court, a friend texted me that this Knicks team just finds new ways to lose.
I disagree. These gut-wrenching defeats have a common theme and a similar feel. It’s the reason why an exasperated Walt Clyde Frazier said what we were all thinking in that final minute.
“Here we go, deja vu.”
Where do we begin with this one: the offensive possession before Devin Booker’s game-winning three? That wide-open look Booker was afforded? The non-call on Derrick Rose‘s drive after that? Or the defiant basketball Melo shot that touched every part of the rim, but still refused to drop into the hoop at the buzzer?
Let’s take it in that order.
The Knicks led 105-104 with under a minute to go. They actually held a five-point lead with under four minutes left, but that’s a whole other blog we can write another day. Rose walked the ball up the floor looking to use up as much clock as possible and then passed it off to Ron Baker, who was 30 feet from the basket with about 10 seconds on the shot clock.
Baker had no options. It’s hard to figure out what was supposed to happen on this possession. Baker looked to Courtney Lee on the left wing, but he couldn’t get free. After he passed the ball, Rose stood still and Eric Bledsoe stayed right in his pocket.
With nowhere to go, Baker put the ball on the floor, put his head down and drove hard to the basket. He tried a layup attempt, but missed. Kristaps Porzingis flew in for a follow-up dunk, but the timing was just a little off.
There’s now 44.8 seconds left.
That’s when Clyde first said it.
“Here we go, deja vu.”
His voice raised with anticipation, knowing how often lately the Knicks had faltered late in games. Bledsoe called for a pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler on the left side. Rose, who was guarding Booker, slid to the free throw line and was yelling for Porzingis to “pull over” and take away Bledsoe’s space coming out of the screen.
As the play developed, Rose remained there, somewhat in no-man’s land, ball-watching. As Bledsoe came around the screen, he whipped a cross-court pass to Booker, who was standing on the right side of the court on the “EN” of the Madison Square Garden logo on the floor. That’s about 30 feet from the basket.
Rose sprinted out and leaped with his hand up, but Booker — who is shooting 47.8% from downtown in January — had a clean look and drained the shot with 31.7 seconds on the clock. The Suns suddenly had a two-point lead.
“Here we go, deja vu.”
This time Clyde’s voice was more despondent.
Rose tried to explain that he was trying to talk KP through the defense. He then admitted what everyone in the gym was thinking: “I probably should have hugged [Booker] a little bit.”
The deja vu that Clyde referenced was more than just another late collapse or defensive breakdown. You recall the loss to Atlanta last week when Rose went into the paint to help and left Dennis Schroder wide open for what turned into the game-winning three-pointer.
And think back to the loss in Philadelphia, when Robert Covington was left open for a momentum-turning three with under two minutes left in a game the Knicks had been leading by 7.
“When the game is on the line,” Jeff Hornacek lamented, “teams are seeming to be able to make those shots on us.”
The Knicks will also tell you they aren’t getting calls they feel they deserve in these situations, as well. On the next possession after the Booker shot, Rose attacked quickly and got to the rim for a layup. But he missed as Bledsoe was playing tough defense that, when you look at the replay, included pushing him with his left hand.
Rose stood on the baseline and dropped his head as the Suns ran down the court with 27.6 seconds left. If Bledsoe was more alert, he could have cut to the basket for a game-clinching dunk as Rose took a few seconds to get back on defense.
Instead, the Suns got a bad shot by Booker and the Knicks had one last chance with 6.3 seconds left.
Everything went right.
Inbounds to Melo, their top scorer. Great screen by Baker, who pancaked the rugged PJ Tucker off Melo.
“You couldn’t ask for a better look,” Melo said.
“It felt good,” he continued. “The shot felt good . . . that shot was in.”
The shot rimmed out.
During the postgame show, Lorenzo Albanese sent a tweet that I had to use in the Coca-Cola Zone. The last three losses by the Knicks have come by a total of six points: Hawks (-1), Wizards (-3) and the Suns (-2).
You want to know the difference in a season? The Knicks started the season 14-10 and had a record of 6-2 in games decided by 5 points or less. Since then, their record is 5-16 and the are 1-8 in games decided by 5 points or less.
January has brought mild weather, but it’s been a bitter cold month for the Knicks. Five games remain, with four on the road. Monday’s game in Indiana is broadcast by TNT, but we’ll have Knicks Extra on MSG Network immediately following the game.