NEW YORK — Kristaps Porzingis and some of his teammates were in disbelief on Sunday after the New York Knicks lost a late lead at home to the Atlanta Hawks, a team with one of the worst records in the NBA.
“I can’t even process that we lost. I can’t believe it. It was our game. It was 100 percent our game. Stuff happened quick, and boom, it was over,” Porzingis said after the Knicks let a four-point lead with 1:07 to play slip away. “… We’re just not there yet as a team. We keep losing these games.”
New York has dropped three straight and 10 of its past 14. The club is four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference entering Monday. The players still hope to make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, which is partially why Courtney Lee called Sunday’s loss the most damning of the season.
“I would say [it was] the most embarrassing game that we lost, being in the situation where a lot of the situations there was time to score, and we just didn’t capitalize on opportunities,” Lee said. “… We were in position to win this game, and I think we just checked out and lost focus on a couple of plays, and it cost us.”
The Knicks led 96-92 with 1:07 to play when Porzingis missed two free throws. Tim Hardaway Jr. corralled an offensive rebound after the second miss. Instead of taking time off the game clock, Hardaway Jr. immediately took and missed a fadeaway from 8 feet.
The Knicks allowed an offensive rebound on the ensuing Hawks possession and Mike Muscala then hit a 3-point shot with 47 seconds to play. Kent Bazemore hit another 3-pointer on the Hawks’ next possession — after a poor offensive possession from New York — to give Atlanta a one-point lead with 8.5 seconds to play.
Hardaway Jr., who left the locker room after the game before reporters arrived, stepped out of bounds on the Knicks’ ensuing possession and missed a 3 with the Knicks down three with two seconds to play to seal the loss.
Atlanta, whose 16-37 record is the second-worst in the NBA, finished the game on a 12-3 run in the final 2:01.
“We don’t know how to finish games. We don’t know how to win games at the end,” Porzingis said.
The Knicks (23-31) were impacted by a botched call late in the fourth quarter. With 3:49 remaining, Bazemore was fouled on a 3-pointer. He missed his first two free throws but didn’t take the third free throw as play continued. Hardaway Jr. converted a dunk and was fouled on the ensuing Knicks possession, seemingly giving New York a five-point lead. But Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told crew chief Pat Fraher that Bazemore didn’t take his third free throw.
The referees corrected the error, waving off Hardaway’s made basket and giving Bazemore his third free throw. Bazemore converted the free throw to cut the Knicks’ lead to two at 89-87. Fraher told a pool reporter that they could award Bazemore his third free throw — and waive off Hardaway Jr.’s made basket — because it was flagged within 24 seconds.
“If under 24 seconds have elapsed, we go back to the point of interruption, reset the game clock and nullify all play that happens up until that point,” Fraher said.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek and the players didn’t use the botched call as an excuse.
“Even with all that, it was our game. We just didn’t finish it. We don’t know how to win yet,” Porzingis said. “For me, that’s the thing. Until we learn how to execute and do the right thing at the end, we’ll drop games like this, our games, for sure.”
New York started the season 16-13 but has won just seven of 25 since then. Porzingis was asked on Sunday to explain why the Knicks have struggled to close games recently.
“Our execution can get better, obviously. It’s pretty much we’re doing the same thing over and over again. Maybe teams know what we’re doing,” he said. “But it’s also on us the players. We also got to execute better. If I had the answer, it would be easier. I don’t have the answer.”