Knicks Let One Slip Away in Chicago

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. After yet another fourth quarter meltdown and yet another road loss, Jeff Hornacek made some interesting comments about his team’s issues late in games.

“Something we don’t understand,” he said, “is how physical it’s going to be.”

The Knicks managed just 14 points against the Bulls in the final quarter and for the third straight game had some very poor possessions with the game on the line. Kristaps Porzingis had just two points in the final quarter and missed four of his five shot attempts. On a critical play, he fell on a rebound attempt and his man, Lauri Markkanen, sprinted down the floor for the go-ahead dunk on the break.

“The game is reffed differently at the end,” Hornacek said. “They’re not going to call the little things that they call early in the game. That’s been basketball forever and ever.”

Porzingis took the blame, saying, “A lot of it is on me. I have to play better late in games. I have to be a leader and score and make the right play.”

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There was another possession where KP was in the post after a switch with guard Kris Dunn on him, but the Knicks couldn’t get him the ball. Dunn was fronting him, as teams are starting to do now, and pushing into Porzingis’ legs. Several of KP’s shots late in the game were contested and others were awkward moves. We talked in the last blog about how the Knicks need to find easier scores for their star player, but he also needs to get back to what he was doing earlier in the season with a quick strike mentality. Lately, he’s been more deliberate in his moves as the double-team comes.

2. Then there was that final possession: the Enes Kanter three-point attempt.

This may come as a surprise, but Kanter wasn’t the first option on that play. He was, however, the only option because the two main options did not get open.

“We didn’t get a good screen,” Hornacek lamented.

It was out of a timeout, on a side-out situation with Michael Beasley as the passer. Beasley waited desperately for a play to develop and with the referee about to make the five-second call, Beasley tossed it to Kanter. The first option was Doug McDermott, but he was on the other side of the court and, inexplicably, took a jab step toward the basket rather than cutting to the ball.

As for Porzingis? “I was in the corner,” he said.


That one was a head-scratcher, but emblematic of the team’s issues on the road.

3. Ah, yes, the road. This game began a stretch of 16 road games over a 20-game span. Next up: a back-to-back in San Antonio.

That’s what makes these losses like the one in Chicago so maddening. The Knicks held a 15-point lead in the second quarter and were up 10 early in the third quarter. They’ve held double-digit leads in several road games this season that turned into losses.

“You start to wonder,” Hornacek said with a weak smile when asked about the team’s struggles on the road. But he quickly said it was more about confidence and toughness. He pointed to loose balls the Knicks didn’t get or open looks they simply missed. Sure there has been an issue with late-game execution, but the game wasn’t only lost on the last few possessions.

4. Here’s where Wally Szczerbiak and I had one of our debates. After he broke down the fourth quarter woes, I told him the game was also lost at the end of the first half. The Knicks led 46-31 with 3:57 to go in the second quarter and were cruising along.

Following a Bulls timeout, however, the Knicks did not go for the kill. Instead, Markkanen hit a couple of threes and the Bulls outscored the Knicks 18-6 in the final 3:32 to cut the deficit to five at the half.

“We could have went up by 20,” Porzingis said. “[Instead] we were up by 5 and that changed a lot.”

5. There were so many tweets last night from #KnicksTwitter regarding point guard play. That usually is what stands out when a team’s offense is struggling like we’re seeing from the Knicks, especially late in games. The point guard is the catalyst of the offense. It’s the brain. Everything orbits around the decisions and the direction of the point guard.

Statistically, Jarrett Jack and Frank Ntilikina had decent games. Jack had 11 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes. Collectively the Knicks point guard position produced 17 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds. But you can’t judge it solely on stats. This is where the eye-test comes in. When you see an offense that suddenly slows down and is too methodical and where the other players are either standing still waiting for something to develop or moving with uncertainty, that’s a point guard issue.

So how can we rate point guard performance analytically? Let’s go with PER: Player Efficiency Rating. This is a stat that basically combines all of the player’s on-court impact into one number.

The standard is 15. Anything over 15 is good. Over 20 is all-star level. Over 30 is MVP level.

For instance, James Harden leads all players with a PER of 31.0. Giannis Antetokounmpo is second with 30.6. LeBron James is third with 30.5.

When it comes to point guard play, PER is critical. Steph Curry leads all starting point guards with a 27.7 PER. There are 19 starting point guards in the 30-team NBA with a PER above the standard of 15.

Jack’s PER is 11.4.

For the record, Ntilikina’s is 7.9.

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