Knicks Done In By Greek Freak’s Brilliance

5 thoughts on the loss:

1. The question had to be asked. I couldn’t have been the only one who made a mental note when Lance Thomas left the game with 4:19 to go and the score tied at 86. Someone else had to be thinking the same thing:

Why take him out? He had been doing a good job defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. In fact, in the past, he always seemed to defend him well. Last season, the two had a couple of great battles down to the final possession. This game was heading in that same direction.

But this time on the final possession, Thomas was on the bench and the Knicks had Enes Kanter guarding him on a switch with the final seconds ticking down. Kanter tried to stay in front, but the Greek Freak took those long strides and reached with those long arms and laid up the game-winner.

Kristaps Porzingis, who initially had Antetokounmpo but went to John Henson on the switch, was in the vicinity to help, but not close enough.

“I was a little late,” Porzingis admitted.

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Here’s the question: if Thomas is still in the game, even if the switch happens with Henson coming up for the screen, you’d have the 7’3” Porzingis on the 6’10” Antetokounmpo for that last shot. All-Star vs All-Star. You live with the results.

Or you get Thomas fighting through the screen to stay with his man.

Of course, the question is: when do you get Thomas back in the game? If only basketball had hockey’s change-on-the-fly rules.

Just imagine that for a second…that would be wild.

Wally Szczerbiak and I debated the final defensive possession in the opening segment of the postgame show. It’s easy to question decisions after the game ends, but, once again, I couldn’t have been the only one who noted when Thomas left the game. We have seen the media-driven narrative about Kanter’s lack of presence in the latter stretches of games. After a fourth straight game in which Kanter posted a double-double, was Hornacek mindful of putting his starting center back on the court in this situation?

Jeff Hornacek gave credit to a great player making a play, which it certainly was, and as Wally pointed out on the postgame show, Hornacek is a few feet away from the play and calling out exactly what to do. He knew what was coming. After the switch, you can see him clapping his hands calling for a foul. Perhaps make Antetokounmpo earn it at the foul line (he did miss four free throws in the game) and leave the Knicks enough time for a final shot?

Instead, Antetokounmpo set Kanter up with a spin move at the foul line and then extended to the hoop for the win. Great move by an incredibly unique player.

2. Kanter had another physically dominant game. His 17 points and 18 rebounds marked a fourth straight double-double. Actually, he had it by halftime (11 points, 10 rebounds). But going back to the first point, while there was good reason for him to be in the game late — as both teams struggled to score, rebounding was critical in securing a defensive stop — there were opportunities to go back to Lance Thomas for the final possessions.

The first opportunity came with 2:38 left and the Knicks leading 88-86. The Bucks called a timeout and, with the lead, the Knicks could have gone back to a defensive lineup as Antetokounmpo went to the line for free throws.

But there was one more important rebound by Kanter off an Antetokounmpo miss with 41 seconds left and the score tied at 90. The Knicks called timeout. Obviously here you’re looking to score the ball, so Thomas is not in your plans. Coincidentally, the ball got to Kanter in the paint and he missed a layup with 24 seconds left.

At that point, Hornacek and the Knicks were at the mercy of their lineup. Again, no change-on-the-fly exists in basketball. If only it did…

3. Porzingis wanted the one-on-one challenge with Antetokounmpo — All-Star vs All-Star — but he showed he’s still a few years behind his fellow physical freak. While Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes, KP finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds in 35 minutes and made just 6 of 15 from the field. He had a couple of blocks — including one on Antetokounmpo — but was caught out of position on that final possession after the ill-fated switch.

KP also took a bad three-point attempt with 1:43 to go and the score tied at 90. It seemed like at that point he was trying to get into a shot-for-shot with Antetokounmpo. It started with a pair of free throws by Giannis, to tie it at 88, which KP answered with a beautiful cut and finish off a pass from Tim Hardaway Jr. to put the Knicks back up by 2. Then Antetokounmpo answered that to tie it at 90.

On the next possession with under two minutes to go in the game, KP took a quick three that fell short.

Porzingis, who also took a bad cut to the lip early in the game while defending Antetokounmpo, wore the look of a player who had frustrations boiling over after yet another agonizing loss.

“Losing’s not fun at all,” he said.

4. On that rushed three in question by KP, the possession wasn’t completely ruined thanks to some hustle by Hardaway Jr. Khris Middleton got the rebound, but Hardaway Jr. managed to get the steal and was fouled. He went to the line for a chance to give the Knicks the lead with 1:27 to go.

He was on his way to a 1 for 14 night, but at least he made 4 of 5 from the free throw line at the time, so …

Nope, he missed both.

But then got the rebound. The effort was still there despite the poor shooting. He had another chance for the lead … but missed again.

“Put this one on me,” he said after the game. “Put it on my shoulders.”

Hardaway wears No. 3. We’ve seen nights like this before from that jersey. We’ve also seen the resiliency.

“I don’t stop shooting,” he said with that Starksian defiance.

The final play, with 1.9 seconds left, wasn’t exactly drawn for him, but of course, the ball found him. It always does on nights like this, doesn’t it? He missed that last desperate attempt to make it 0 for 9 from downtown.

That tied the franchise record for most three-point attempts without a make in a game, joining Charlie Ward (Nov. 24, 2003 at Boston) and, of course, John Starks (Feb. 23, 1995 against the Kings).

5. This game ended a 20-game block that we said would likely make-or-break the season. The Knicks played 16 of those 20 on the road as a result of The Garden hosting the Grammys in January. They went 6-14 in that 20 game span.

When it began, the Knicks were 17-16 following the loss on Christmas Day to the 76ers. They were tied with the Miami Heat for 8th in the East.

They have since fallen to 10th in the East and sit six games back in the loss column behind … the 76ers (25-24), for the final playoff spot.

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