Is There A Difference In How Knicks Lose?

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. There is an irony to being a fan who encourages losing. It’s something that has creeped into the mindset of a new era of sports fans who firmly believe you can win by losing. Or maybe it’s less about what’s really best for the team you root for and more for your own personal psyche as a fan, an affirmation of your loyalty to a “process” that somehow uses losing as a strategy that leads to winning.

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Basically, you say ‘I want my team to lose,’ so when they lose, you don’t feel bad about it.

This is a terrible stage to endure. It’s almost a complete surrender of hope.

The Knicks (23-35) are on an eight-game losing streak going into the All-Star Break. They are now 13 games under .500 and there are 23 games left in the season. Certainly hope has been surrendered.

But is there a difference in how you lose?

For instance, when you’ve lost eight straight games and 32-year-old Courtney Lee is second in minutes played (30.4 per game) and 34-year-old Jarrett Jack leads your point guards in minutes played (21.5 per game), that’s when fans who believe in “the process” get frustrated.

If you lose eight straight games but it’s mainly with young players who are fighting their way through and learning as they go and even showing some progress along the way, it at least feels like there is a method to the madness. When the coaching is focused solely on development and reps and experiencing things they’ve never seen before, it changes the environment a little, doesn’t it? It goes from a feeling of despair to a focus on building toward the future. At least that’s what you hope.

It’s the idea that, right now you’re overwhelmed, but next time you see that guy, you’ll know. On to the next lesson.

As we will address a bit later, the minutes distribution is about to change after the All-Star break. But will that be enough to change the culture of losing?

Back in December, when the Knicks were off to a surprisingly good start and dared to talk about competing for a playoff berth, general manager Scott Perry dismissed the idea of losing for the purpose of gaining a high lottery position.

“I think if you try to institutionalize losing, if you will, that’s hard to get out of your building,” Perry said.

Those words resonate today more than ever.

2. The most impressive thing Tim Hardaway Jr. did in this game — we’ll get to his performance in a moment — was his ominous warning to MSG Network‘s Al Trautwig and the viewers at the end of his halftime interview.

“The game’s not over,” he said, with the Knicks up 21 points at the half. “We’ve been up this amount before and teams have come back and beaten us.”

There’s a guy who is paying attention and also who knows what his team is really all about.

And he was right. Before this game, the Knicks had three times this season lost games in which they held 20-point leads. This would be the fourth.

Oct. 21 vs DET: Led by 21 points, lost 111-107.
Nov. 13 vs CLE: Led by 23 points, lost 104-101.
Nov. 25 @ HOU: Led by 22 points, lost 117-102.
Feb. 14 vs WAS: Led by 27 points, lost 118-113.

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Note that three of the four blown leads were at home.

Hardaway seemed to know it was coming. The Wizards came out at halftime and rolled off nine straight points to turn momentum, and built a “Third Quarter of Doom” for the Knicks in a 39-15 avalanche of reality that has all too often been the story this season.

“That happened several times this year coming out for the third quarter,” Jeff Hornacek said.

A chronic issue that has never been fixed. Which is why Hardaway felt it could happen again.

That says a lot about the confidence crisis that exists in that locker room.

“It’s tough, man,” Enes Kanter said. “It’s embarrassing. It’s on all of us.”

Also note that before this season, the Knicks had blown a 20-point lead to lose just five times since 1991-92, when this type of stat was recorded. Before this season, the last time the Knicks held a 20-point lead in a loss was Nov 12, 2010 at Minnesota.

3. Let’s acknowledge, at least, that Hardaway broke out of what was the worst three-point shooting slump in franchise history. Before the game, on my pregame Knicks Fix segment, I reported that Hardaway’s 5-for-44 shooting (11.4%) over the previous seven games was the worst stretch by a Knick since the three-point shot was introduced. He eclipsed a run of 6-for-45 shooting (13.3%) by Chris Duhon during the 2009-10 season.

The difference between the two is Duhon’s slump lasted 16 games.

Hardaway put in extra work after practice with Hornacek and assistant coach Jerry Sichting, and from his first look in the game — a corner three — his shot looked perfect. He nailed five of his first six from three and went on a torrid stretch in the second quarter that saw him score 10 straight points and send The Garden into a frenzy. The Knicks took their 27-point lead at that point and Hardaway looked like he could go for 50.

He finished with 32 points at the half, just six shy of his career-high, which he set in November against the Raptors. But Bradley Beal and the Wizards decided to focus all of their defensive attention on him and Hardaway was neutralized in the second half. He was 2-for-7 from the field in the third quarter and four of his five misses were blocked.

This is where some players learn just how hard it is to be The Man on a nightly basis. But this is also where a team recognizes a player on a hot streak and you do all you can to get him into situations where he can get more open looks and stay in rhythm.

Once Hardaway was taken out of the game, the Knicks were lost. Michael Beasley tried to pick up the slack, but he had a rare off-night in shooting (8-for-24 for 16 points).

4. Frank Ntilikina was once again held to limited minutes. He played just 10:58 and Hornacek explained it as a defensive issue involving the 19-year-old chasing Jodie Meeks around screens. “That’s something he’s not used to,” Hornacek said.

Clearly Hornacek is protecting Ntilikina right now and has been for most of the season. You have to give the coach some credit here for that while the majority of those watching insist on the baptism-by-fire approach. That could be detrimental to Ntilikina’s development.

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Early in the season, Hornacek was giving Ntilikina heavy minutes in the fourth quarter and the Knicks were winning games. But once advanced scouting caught up and teams started applying heavy on-ball pressure against Ntilikina’s suspect handle, Hornacek got him out of those situations quickly.

After the All-Star break, the kid gloves may come off. Hornacek admitted there will likely be changes made to the guard rotation with Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke (who, by the way, was a DNP again) getting the bulk of the minutes.

“After the break,” Hornacek said, “we’ll probably see those guys play more.”

They’ll get two full days of practice next week to figure some things out before the next game after the All-Star break, Thursday against the Magic.

Mudiay, by the way, played 20:28 and had 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, which seems like a pretty good stat line. But he was 3-for-9 from the floor, including 0-for-2 from downtown, and committed four turnovers. There’s definitely some potential there, but one observation is he’s not in very good game shape yet. He fell out of the rotation in Denver, so his game conditioning may not be where it should be, but for a 21-year-old, he looks like he would have a lot more explosion and energy if he improved his fitness level.

This is a guy who needs to commit himself to that in the offseason, get with a great point guard coach and come back for training camp next year in the best shape of his career.

5. OK before we go into the break, let’s do exactly what they say Knicks fans do too often and live in the past for a moment.

Come with me into the Hot Tub Time Machine. We need it.

Feb. 14, 2018 marked the 50th annivesary of the first NBA game in the current Madison Square Garden. This is the fourth version of The Garden in New York City and the Knicks have played in two of them. The building known as “the Old Garden” was actually the third version and it used to stand on 49th Street and Eighth Avenue and opened in 1925, well before the Knicks — or even the NBA — existed.

The Knicks officially moved into this Garden on Feb. 14, 1968. Dave DeBusschere scored the first point in arena history, but it wasn’t for the Knicks. In fact, it wasn’t even against the Knicks.

Also, the first triple-double in The Garden was recorded that night and it, too, wasn’t by a Knick. In fact, it was recorded by a coach.

No, seriously. Stay with us.

That night, The Garden hosted an NBA doubleheader – those used to be common back then – and the first game was the Detroit Pistons against the Boston Celtics. (Think about that, the Celtics agreed to play in the opening game at the new MSG). DeBusschere, then with the Pistons, hit a free throw to open the scoring in the game. He would wind up on the Knicks later that year, in December, in one of the biggest trades in league history.

The first triple-double in the arena’s history was recorded in that game by Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who had 13 points, 23 rebounds and 10 assists in the win for the Celtics. He was player/coach at the time.

The Knicks played the second game and took a 114-102 win over the Rockets, who, at the time, were based in San Diego. (I know, this is all so confusing). Our own Walt Frazier scored the first Knick points in the new Garden on a layup. He finished with 22 points and 10 assists.

Check out this excerpt from a story in the New York Times, written by the great Dave Anderson, about the grand opening of basketball at the Mecca:

It did provide more public telephones. There were about a dozen in the old Garden, compared to 89 in the new one. “It’s a great place,” said a man in a black cashmere overcoat. “I don’t have to wait in line now to call my bookie.”

You see kids, before cell phones people had to find a public telephone and use dimes and quarters to make a call and if someone was using the phone you had to wait to make a call so…

Oh, forget it.

One final note, the current version of The Garden, which underwent a major transformation in 2011, will become the oldest remaining arena in the league once the Warriors move out of Oracle Arena in 2019.

[Watch Knicks-Magic on MSG & MSG GO Thursday, Feb. 22. Download Free]

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.