Knicks fail to execute on final two possessions, drop a tough one to Wizards

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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.”

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.