Late-Game Mistakes Cost Knicks a Win in Motown


1. End-game situations are always up for debate, especially when they don’t work. There are certain fundamentals that we believe in that dictate the plan. As we often do, Wally Szczerbiak and I disagreed on the timing and execution of Courtney Lee‘s drive in the final minute that resulted in a blocked shot.

There were several failed possessions in the final minute of this game — we’ll get to a few more — but the most critical was the Lee drive.

Here was the situation: down one on the road, with the ball and under 24 seconds left. In my opinion, you control the game at this point because the shot clock is eliminated. This can be — and should have been — the final possession of the game. Wally disagreed.

Watch this and see which side you’re on.

Again, it’s my take that in this scenario you work the clock down under 10 seconds and get to your best matchup. The only time you leave on the clock before a shot is just enough for an offensive rebound.

So what do you think? Tweet at us @alanhahn and @wallyball and make your case.

[Watch Knicks-Sixers Christmas Day on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

2. That wasn’t the only head-scratching possession, of course. Everyone after that game lamented the final minute, which saw the Knicks turn a four-point lead into a maddening loss.

“Those last five possessions,” Lee said, “we messed up two plays out there and rushed one. So it was definitely self-inflicted.”

At the root of the problem, as Jeff Hornacek pointed to, was the absence of a dribble-penetration point guard. “It was kind of that way all game,” he said. “We couldn’t get downhill.”

Yes, we’re back to that conversation.

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Jarrett Jack was struggling against Reggie Jackson and Frank Ntilikina had a very passive game with the basketball, so Hornacek turned to Lee to be his primary ballhandler.

So that’s why you have a situation where he winds up going off a screen and driving into the paint too early on a critical possession. That’s why that last possession was botched. Lee was intent on getting the ball to Kristaps Porzingis and the two-man game they were playing was botched into a near turnover and a buzzer fling.

Then we have the Ron Baker turnover with 33.1 seconds left. That one actually had potential to be a huge basket, as Baker went left toward the baseline and then under the rim. He spotted Lance Thomas cutting into the paint and tried a bounce pass that, if it reached the target, would have resulted in a dunk to give the Knicks a two-point lead.

Instead, the pass bounced off a foot and resulted in a turnover.

But that wasn’t the worst of them. Not even close.

3. After that 0-for-11 game against the Celtics, Porzingis made his first shot against the Pistons, but still struggled with his shooting early on. In the fourth quarter, however, he caught fire and looked like a star player carrying his team to a road win. He made some big shots late in the quarter and the biggest one was a tough 18-footer with 1:17 to go to give the Knicks a 101-97 lead.

That felt like a potential dagger and when Reggie Jackson’s jumper missed there was an opportunity to essentially end the game with a rebound. But Andre Drummond got to the ball it first for a critical tip-in to cut it to a two-point game with 1:07 left.

Still, the Knicks had control as they went down the floor. Just work the clock and get a good … oh, OK I guess KP wanted a heat check.

There was still 12 seconds left on the shot clock when Porzingis tossed up a quick three from way beyond the line. It missed badly.

So when you hear Lee reference those late possessions and mention how they “rushed one,” look no further than that shot.

Drummond got that rebound, too, and sent the outlet to Jackson, who attacked quickly (that’s the “downhill” Hornacek was talking about) and put up a floater to tie the score with 44 seconds left.

Porzingis didn’t need anyone to tell him that was a bad shot in that situation.

“We have to run the plays the right way,” he said. “Everybody, including myself.”

4. The game was won and lost in the final minute, so there’s nowhere else to look when it comes to breaking this one down. But as you peruse the boxscore, it’s impossible to not see the free throw disparity. The Pistons took 25 while the Knicks had just 6 attempts. The Knicks were called for 20 fouls and the Pistons only 11.

Yet both teams operated in the painted area at the same rate, with the Knicks earning a 54-52 advantage in Points in the Paint.

It’s easy to point to officiating and suggest they weren’t making calls. Porzingis took 28 shots and was getting man-handled by Anthony Tolliver and the Pistons’ defense. But he took only two free throws?

Something isn’t right about that.

Until you watch the game again and see that KP settled for a lot of jumpers after it was clear he couldn’t get to his spots on the post. He’s showing on film that you can distract him by simply playing up close on him and keeping your hands up. It’s not easy to do, of course. You have to be willing to get hit by his elbows and knees as he gets into his moves. Tolliver clearly was willing and the officials were willing to let the mutual contact go on.

This also goes back to the Hornacek comment about the lack of dribble penetration. A large portion of the Knicks’ points in the painted area was from offensive rebounds and Enes Kanter (22 points, 16 rebounds).

The Knicks are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the NBA. They made 80.1% from the line, which is the fifth-best in the league. The issue is their frequency. They average 19.9 FTA per game, which is 22nd in the NBA. On the road, it’s even less at 16.8 FTA per game, which is the second-lowest in the entire league.

So is this just about not getting calls? Or is there a deeper issue involved in the offense that could be a reason why they struggle on the road?

5. Speaking of the road, the Knicks are now 2-10. It’s an alarming record that is even more of a concern when you consider that after Christmas, the Knicks will play 29 of their final 49 games of the season on the road. And 16 of the next 20 after Christmas are on the road.

You could say this is the moment of truth for the season.

But don’t tell that to Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons’ coach played the media before the game by bringing up the Knicks’ schedule, which has the team playing 21 home games in their first 33 games.

“A cynical person would say the league tried to help them and build some confidence at the beginning of the year by giving them a lot of home games,” he said.

There’s no way he was serious, right?

He then held his nose and did a cannonball into the pool of sarcasm.

“That’s what a cynical person would say, not me,” he added. “It’s just by chance they got so many games early on.”

The Knicks and Pistons are bunched up in the Eastern Conference playoff standings and Stan’s team has had a terrible December. The motivation behind these comments seem merely for personal entertainment and because the Van Gundy’s love to get the media all stirred up.

For those wondering why the league gave the Knicks so many home games early in the season, the reason is simple: The Garden is hosting the 60th anniversary of the Grammy Awards on Jan. 28. Any Lakers, Clippers or Kings fan will tell you about the “Grammy Trip” that their teams take after the New Year as a result of this show. It takes up most of the month because of building the set and getting the arena ready for it. The Staples Center had become the annual host.

And the reason why the league couldn’t backload home games on the schedule is because The Garden is also booked in March, as it always is, for college basketball. It used to be just the Big East Tournament that took over the building for a week, but now it will be the Big 10 Tournament from Feb. 28-March 4 and then comes the Big East Tournament from March 7-10. The building will be very busy for the next three months. The Knicks are hoping to keep it busy come April.

The Garden is hosting the Grammys for the first time since 2003. By the way, that season the Knicks played 19 of their first 30 games at home. They didn’t quite take advantage of it with a 12-18 record en route to a 37-45 finish.

[Watch Knicks-Sixers Christmas Day on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]