The New York Knicks’ loss to the Houston Rockets Friday night was as painful as they come. Competitive on the road — a rare combination for the Knicks this season — against a good Western Conference team, the Knicks all but squandered away a game they could’ve checked off as a win.
The Knicks had tied the game at 100 on a pair of Tyson Chandler free throws, and after getting a crucial stop on an Aaron Brooks drive, had the ball with over 30 seconds to play. The Knicks moved the ball around well, found Carmelo Anthony in the corner, who whipped a dangerous pass cross-court to Beno Udrih in the opposite corner. Udrih launched a three-pointer, bricked it, but Tyson Chandler came up with the offensive rebound with 23 seconds to play. The game was tied, the shot clock was off. Worst case scenario: the Knicks literally don’t do anything with the ball, and the game goes to overtime. That’s not what happened.
Off of the offensive board, Udrih got the ball back and swung it to J.R. Smith who was wide open at the top of the key. Smith launched the three-pointer — he was 1-7 prior to that shot — and bricked it. The Rockets came down with the rebound, Udrih fouled Brooks while fighting for the board. Brooks sank two free throws. Despite three blunders — Udrih passing to Smith instead of resetting himself, Smith’s shot, and Udrih’s foul — the Knicks still had a chance to win the game.
With 17 seconds to score, the Knicks again moved the ball around, except each player was scared to shoot. Anthony, isolated at the top of the key, turned down his usual one-on-one time to find Shumpert on a curl play. Shumpert pump-faked, took a few dribbles and pulled up at the top of they key. He missed, but Bargnani got the rebound. It swung back to Anthony, who passed up another shot to kick it to Udrih in the corner. He dished it to Smith who dribbled around, scared, and passed back to Udrih who forced a tough runner in the lane that rimmed out.
It was crushing, but it was indicative of this Knicks team. They’re scared, confused, tense at the end of games. Furthermore, they’re unprepared. This isn’t the first time it’s happened:
1.) 11/14/13 – In a loss to the Houston Rockets, Anthony intentionally fouled Dwight Howard in the final two minutes. Except, under two minutes remaining, you can’t intentionally foul someone without the ball. The Rockets got to choose who shot free throws, so Harden went to the line, hit one of two, but then the Rockets got the offensive rebound, got fouled again, and Howard hit two free throws. The Knicks still had a chance to win, but it was a crucial three-point swing that hurt the Knicks.
2.) 11/20/13 – In a loss to the Indiana Pacers, Shumpert fouled Paul George on a three-point attempt that gave George three free throws to tie the game. The call was controversial because there was minimal contact, but it was still a scenario where the Knicks didn’t understand time and situation. Shumpert contested too aggressively, and it sent New York to overtime where they lost.
3.) 12/16/13 – In a loss to the Washington Wizards, the Knicks let Bradley Beal isolate Beno Udrih and blow by him for an open layup. Udrih didn’t utilize the foul the Knicks had to give to stop him from scoring, nor did any Knick come for help defense. Additionally, the Knicks had THREE timeouts to use to advance the ball and set up a play with the remaining 6.9 seconds. Woodson — nor any of the Knicks — used that timeout, and Carmelo Anthony jogged up the court, launched a contested, fade-away three-pointer that didn’t even hit the rim. The Knicks lost by one.
4.) 12/18/13 – Although the Knicks won this game, in an overtime, up two against the Milwaukee Bucks, Carmelo Anthony missed a jumper. The Knicks got the offensive rebound, but Andrea Bargnani launched a three-pointer with the shot-clock off. He missed, the Bucks got the ball and had a chance to score. They missed, thankfully, and the game went to double-OT where the Knicks won. Still, it was clueless, crucial error that almost cost another win.
These miscommunications are simply killing the Knicks. They’ve lost a number of close games, and that happens sometimes. Sometimes the other team just makes a great shot or great defensive stop in the final seconds — those things are forgivable (like the Knicks October 31 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. Derrick Rose hit a crazy game-winner over two defenders, and Anthony missed a jumper at the buzzer. It happens).
But the Knicks are finding ways to kill themselves. In the clutch, in fact, they’ve had almost no success. According to NBA.com, in situations where either team leads by three or fewer points with one minute or less to play, they are just 4-9. Furthermore, they only shoot 17.9% from the field in those situations. The only two baskets I can remember in such situations would be Tyson Chandler’s alley-oop vs. the Milwaukee Bucks in the home-opener, and Shumpert’s tip-in against the Spurs Thursday night.
Carmelo Anthony was once one of the most clutch players in the NBA in the final minutes or seconds. Look up “Carmelo Anthony clutch” on YouTube, and tons of great plays come up… when he was with the Denver Nuggets. With the Knicks, it hasn’t quite been that way, at least not recently.
In 2013-14, in games where either team leads by five points with two minutes to play, Anthony is shooting just 31% from the field, 19% from three-point range. In even tighter situations, ‘Melo hasn’t been any better. In situations where either team leads by three points with one minute or less to play, Anthony is shooting just 25% from the field and 9% from downtown. This has occurred in 12 different games this season, according to NBA.com.
The Knicks have playoff aspirations, and it’s quite possible that they’ll get there, but they’ll make it harder on themselves if they don’t figure out how to execute in the clutch.
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