Knicks Have An Afternoon To Forget

5 thoughts on the loss:

1. In a game in which we all learned the phrase “correctable error,” the Knicks made several unforced errors to give away a game they know — everyone, including the Hawks, know — they should have won. And two days after Tim Hardaway said to put the loss in Milwaukee “on my shoulders,” he was once again carrying the burden of defeat.

This time, he didn’t want to talk about it. But, be honest, would you? Even during my days as a beat writer, I always wondered if fans cared that a player blew off the media after a frustrating and embarrassing performance. Do you want to hear from him right after that game?

[Editor’s Note: Knicks Announced Today That Ron Baker is Scheduled to Undergo Shoulder Surgery & Miss the Remainder of Season]

By not talking to the media, Tim leaves it on his teammates to speak for him, which might be unfair. But that’s what teammates are supposed to do, pick you up when you are down. If you felt like throwing the remote at the TV after that game, imagine how you’d feel if you were Tim in the locker room.

So I’d expect you will hear from him after Monday’s practice. But this has been a maddening three-game stretch for him and the Knicks.

In Hardaway’s case, this goes beyond a 5-for-33 shooting slump. This was an Alanis Morissette song.

— Foul a three-point shooter, but you never really touched him.
— Have a beautiful dunk-and-one play negated because the referees forgot to award the previous play a third free throw.
— Miss a technical free throw while up three with 3:06 to go.
— Brain cramp on what should have been a game-clinching offensive rebound up four with 1:07 to go.
— Don’t get inbounds quick enough on a side-out play down two with six seconds left.
— Miss an open look for a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

A traffic jam, when you’re already late
A No Smoking sign on your cigarette break …

2. Hardaway wasn’t alone. The officiating crew of Leroy Richardson, Pat Fraher and Jason Goldenberg had an embarrassing moment that, within the referee fraternity, is sure to result in a lot of trash talking.

How do you forget a free throw?!

Human error, that’s how. And this is why we have the “correctable error” rule.

It happened with 3:49 left in the game, the Knicks were leading 89-86. Hardaway was called for a foul on a Kent Bazemore three-point attempt. Replays did not show any contact and Bazemore had his legs kicked out, but the whistle was blown. OK, so three shots.

Bazemore missed the first.

BALL DON’T LIE!

He then missed the second.

BALL DON’T … wait, why are they running down the other end of the floor?

The Knicks took possession and set up a beautiful play that, eventually, didn’t count. Kristaps Porzginis hit Hardaway on a cut and he finished with a dunk and a foul. That play put the Knicks up 91-86 with 3:32 to go and an opportunity to make it a six-point lead at the line.

That’s when the referees were called to the scorer’s table. It’s the job of the Official Scorer to make sure the book is correct. So the referees were told: Bazemore was supposed to get three free throws. He only took two.

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Instead of Hardaway going to the line, Bazemore went back to the line and the clock was rolled back to 3:49 and two points for the Knicks were taken off the scoreboard.

And all the referees could tell Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks was: “Oops.”

But here’s what’s worse, the Hardaway dunk happened just a few seconds too soon. According to the rule, if a play happens under 24 seconds after the error, the game goes back to the original point of the error. If it happens after 24 seconds, the plays stand and the free throw issue is corrected without going back on the clock.

Hardaway’s dunk came 17 seconds after the mistake, so the game rewound back and the play was negated.

Now, had Hardaway not been fouled, play would not have stopped and the Knicks might have maintained the five-point lead. But that’s irrelevant to the loss when you consider the Knicks had a five-point lead with 1:44 to go, had a four-point lead and the ball with 1:05 to go and a one-point lead with 30 seconds to go and still lost the game.

3. Despite the argument of the momentum swing, the Knicks lost this game for many reasons other than just the referee’s error. There was some poor offensive execution, including a very poor possession after Mike Muscala cut it to 96-95 with 47 seconds to go. The possession ended in a tough shot by Kyle O’Quinn, who was out of options at the top of the key when Trey Burke couldn’t get open to get the ball back.

But defensive execution was poor late in the game, which allowed for some wide-open threes for the Hawks. Doug McDermott was caught with his hands down and late to close on a corner three by Taurean Prince with 2:01 left, which cut a six-point lead in half.

Dewayne Dedmon got some key offensive rebounds in the final two minutes against Porzingis and O’Quinn that extended possessions for the Hawks. The biggest was with 49 seconds left with the Knicks up four. Dedmon got the rebound over O’Quinn and hit Muscala for a wide-open three to cut the deficit to 96-95. If the Knicks get that rebound, the game is over.

But the worst came on the game-winning shot by Bazemore. With the Knicks up one, Dennis Schroder, who was 2-for-16, drove on Burke with 11 seconds to go. Burke was in decent position to force Schroder into a tough shot, but Porzingis came over to help and O’Quinn positioned himself for a rebound.

Muscala, who was guarded by Porzingis, slipped out to the three-point line and Schroder found him as Porzingis fully committed. That forced Hardaway to race out from the corner, where he was defending Bazemore, to challenge the Muscala shot.

Muscala quickly got it to Bazemore, who buried the three with eight seconds left. Bazemore was 7-for-17 in the game, but 4-for-4 from that exact corner spot.

Was KP wrong to come over and help Burke with some rim presence? When you watch back the replay a few times, it’s tough to call, but that’s what happens when you have KP at the four guarding players like Muscala that can pull him out of the paint.

4. Porzingis had a good stat line day with 22 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and four steals, but he was 9-for-20 from the field and missed three of his five free throw attempts. He missed eight straight shots in the first half but came back stronger in the second half, which was good to see.

But the more he commits himself to being a shot-blocking presence, the more teams are looking to exploit him at the four with “stretch” players to take him out of the painted area. Or they put him into pick and roll situations to create switches — as we saw in Milwaukee — to take him away from the basket.

Hornacek has said many times that he thinks Porzingis is better suited at the center position, but Porzingis prefers the matchup with forwards, who are smaller and less physical. That was often an issue with Dirk Nowitzki, who at times would play the five, but often played next to centers, such as Tyson Chandler. However, in this era of the NBA, it’s difficult to match up with teams who have a three-point shooter at the four.

Perhaps what the Knicks need to find is a center who is as physically (athletically) versatile as KP, so he can guard the stretch fours and allow KP to stay inside on defense.

5. Frank Ntilikina played just 6:51 in the game and it was all in the first half. The rookie sat out the second half with what the team said was a sore right knee. Hornacek revealed that it was something Ntilikina has been dealing with for a month and it apparently got worse early in the game.

It certainly explains Ntilikina’s drop-off over the last month. Learning the NBA game on the fly is difficult enough for rookies, but also learning how to manage and play through injuries is not something most fans understand as part of the learning process. Ntilikina missed time in the preseason and also in the first week of the regular season due to ankle and knee issues. He heard enough of the questions about his durability and was determined to prove he could handle the physical challenge of the NBA.

What you love about Ntilikina is the quiet toughness he possesses. He doesn’t often show emotion, but there is a fire in his eyes. He’s polite, but not soft. As critical as we can be about his game right now, there’s something about him that suggests you don’t want to give up on him just yet. Let’s see what he takes into the summer and how he prepares for next season after all he’s learned and endured this season.

What we’ve noticed about Ntilikina, aside from his hesitation to shoot the basketball, is a missing extra gear that NBA guards need to have when driving to the basket. He has great NBA size, but there are questions about his athleticism and explosiveness that are essential tools for a point guard.

Perhaps the knee and fatigue are playing a bigger role in that than we knew. It’s something he will need to address this offseason.

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The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.