NEW YORK — It seemed as though the Knicks were in perfect position to finish off what would have been an uplifting win over the Wizards. They overcame a 15-point third quarter deficit, saw J.R. Smith get hot from three-point distance, and got more than solid minutes from Tim Hardaway Jr. off the bench.
But a defensive breakdown and a failure to execute the most basic of basketball strategies on the final possession instead sent them home with yet another heart-breaking loss.
Washington was clutch in the game’s final moments, where the Knicks were all kinds of inept. And behind 14 fourth quarter points from Bradley Beal, the Wizards came away with the 102-101 victory to send New York to a record of 7-17 on the season.
Beal finished with 21 points in his first game back since Nov. 23, after missing the last nine due to injury. He hit huge three-pointers down the stretch, and then came the game-winner — a layup after blowing right by Beno Udrih and getting to the rim where no help defense from the Knicks would be found.
The lack of defensive rotation is one thing, and as it turned out, it was the least egregious of two huge mistakes on the play. The Knicks had a foul to give, and were instructed to take it in the team’s previous timeout. But Beal was apparently too quick for Udrih to react.
“We knew we had a foul to give,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “But Beno opened the flood gates. It happened so fast. He was thinking the help was there and it wasn’t there. So he couldn’t even reach to grab the guy, to take the foul. But that’s where the breakdown occurred. We all knew we had a foul to give, but we didn’t get a chance to use it.”
Then came the bigger blunder from the Knicks.
With six seconds remaining and needing to go the length of the floor, a timeout is more than customary in those situations — it’s to be expected. The hesitation caused by that lack of timeout call resulted in Carmelo Anthony rushing up an awkward floater from just beyond the three-point line at the buzzer that didn’t have a chance of going in.
Woodson personally took the blame for that one, but his players tried to share in the responsibility.
“I probably should have taken for sure the timeout there at the end,” Woodson said. “Beno grabbed it and the ball was in Melo’s hands before I could even react, and I should have reacted a lot sooner once the ball went through the bucket. So that’s on me.”
J.R. Smith, who had a breakout 18-point performance and recently clashed with his head coach, was one of Woodson’s defenders.
“We’ve got to do a better job as players,” Smith said. “We knew we had there timeouts. We’ve got guys who have been in the league 11, 10 years on the floor and we’ve just got to do a better job of that. We can’t put everything in coach’s hands because he’s out there thinking and reacting like we are. We’ve got to do a better job as players, and be generals out there.”
Anthony similarly had his coach’s back, but did admit he was expecting the timeout to be called.
“I think we was expecting the timeout,” he said. “But I think as players we’ve got to be smart enough to know that, as well. In a situation like that we knew we had timeouts, we knew we had a foul to give at the end of the game. But we can’t leave it on the coach to do everything. We’ve got to know that as well.”
It was a brutal loss for the Knicks in more ways than one. They’re down another body after Pablo Prigioni suffered a hairline fracture in his toe that will cause him to miss at least two weeks. Iman Shumpert may have to play some one, and the team will continue to struggle with more odd lineup combinations as it tries to crawl out of its early-season slump.
But for this single game, winning was within reach. The lack of execution on the final two possessions, however, let it all slip away.
“I think everything just happened so fast,” Anthony said. “I don’t know if we were supposed to call a timeout and we didn’t. We lost the game. Tough loss. Tough way to lose a game.”