Where Would Knicks Be Without These Close Losses?

HAWKS 142, KNICKS 139 (4OT)

The game was loaded with entertainment, drama and history, but when it ended there was no way to enjoy the experience. It was a loss. And perhaps if the Knicks were 28-21, they could shrug it off as just a crazy game. But, when you’re desperate for wins, this one hurt just like the others.

No, this one hurt more. Even with an epic 45-point performance by Carmelo Anthony and numerous clutch shots he hit. Even with Courtney Lee‘s dramatic game-tying three-pointer to force the third OT with 1.5 seconds left.

Jeff Hornacek tried to come up with words of encouragement for his group, which battled through the adversity of some awful officiating and the loss of three starters due to fouls. Even without Derrick Rose (ankle), Melo, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, the possibility of a fifth overtime was real as Lee let go of a corner three just before the final buzzer.

But it missed and so went the Knicks to try to explain yet another heartbreaking defeat.

The loss was the sixth time in the month of January that the Knicks lost by three points or less. Sixth!

Overall, the Knicks have lost 11 games this season by five points or less, which is tied with the Raptors for the most in the NBA. But more notably, it’s the eighth such loss since Christmas Day, which explains why the season has gone from 16-13 going into that game against the Celtics to 5-15 since. Split half of those games and you’re looking at a 25-24 record and sitting seventh in the East.

Instead, the Knicks are 11th in the East and, yet, amazingly, they’re just 2 1/2 games out of the eighth spot. Why? Because only six teams in the East are over the .500 mark as we near February.

The Knicks rarely have an easy night. Even the wins have been nail-biters. Overall, the Knicks have played 19 of their 49 games to a finish of five points or less. That’s tied with the Kings for the most decisions of five or fewer points in the NBA.

Simple math shows you they’re 8-11 in games decided by five or less points, which doesn’t seem that bad until you look deeper to find out that only one win has come since Christmas (Jan. 6 at Milwaukee, a 116-111 victory).

So when you look at the record now and wonder, “What happened to the Knicks?” you see exactly what happened: they went from a team that was able to finish close games early in the season to a team that is unable to make the plays — both on offense and defense — to win games. With a struggling defense that has been an issue all season, this team has such a small margin for error. So one or two plays — and, yes, bad calls by officials, down the stretch are crucial and, as we’ve seen, can prove costly.

The New York Football Giants had this same problem during the 2015 season. Their offense could keep pace with just about anyone, but their defense could not keep teams out of the end zone. As a result, there was so much pressure on their offense to be perfect, especially late in games, that they lost many close games. Six of their 10 losses on the season were in games in which they either held a lead or were tied with two minutes left.

So what did the Giants do in the offseason? They focused on improving their defense. The result? The Giants won 11 games this season and made the playoffs.

After a recovery day on Monday, the Knicks are greeted with one last punch to the gut by this unforgivable month of January with back-to-back road games at Washington and at Brooklyn. We’ll have Knicks Game Night at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday night on MSG Network.