The Knicks ended their 10-day, six-game road trip early Wednesday morning at roughly 1:10 a.m., with a dispiriting 101-99 overtime defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers. It was on the opposite extreme of their uplifting 106-100 victory versus the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. Both games were nationally televised, reflecting the Knicks’ meteoric rise as a marquee attraction after nearly a decade of futility. They flew home having gone 3-3.
The Knicks opened the arduous trek on May 2 with a 122-97 trouncing of the Houston Rockets but closed it letting a critical opportunity for a win elude them. They were absent guards Immanuel Quickley (left ankle sprain) and Alec Burks (left knee contusion) for the final three games of the Western Conference trip.
The Knicks are back at Madison Square Garden tonight to play the San Antonio Spurs, and will host the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and the Boston Celtics on Sunday to end the regular season. Each game will have playoff seeding implications for the Knicks as they battle the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The fourth place finisher will earn home-court advantage for the first round of the NBA playoffs, which begin on May 22, following the play-in tournament taking place May 18-21 and consisting of the 7th through 10th seeds. When last night’s (Wednesday) schedule began, the Knicks, Hawks and Heat were all 38-31.
Facing the Lakers without LeBron James, who up until a few hours before tip-off was expected to return after missing the Lakers’ previous four games nursing a right ankle injury, which has hampered him for a significant portion of this season, the Knicks took a tenuous 89-84 lead with 4:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
From that juncture they only scored two more points in regulation, giving the Lakers a window to tie the game at 91-91 on a Wesley Mathews offensive rebound with 3.1 to go. Julius Randle subsequently missed a potential game-winning, driving floater in the lane as time expired.
In OT, the Knicks had another chance to win the game or force a second five-minute extra period. But guard RJ Barrett, who was 2-13 and 0-7 on three point attempts for only eight points, got caught dribbling backwards well above the top of the key as the clock wound down, confronted by Mathews and Lakers center Andre Drummond cutting off his driving paths, and was forced to launch an off-balanced desperation shot from 32-feet that missed badly.
“All we had to do is get one rebound,” said a discontented Tom Thibodeau after the loss, referring to Mathews’ equalizing put back. The Knicks head coach lamented his team’s minus 12 deficit on the glass (53-41 Lakers) as the direct cause of their collapse.
“Everyone has to get their body on someone. That’s the bottom line. The bottom line,” he reiterated. “There were a lot of plays that their rebounding hurt us throughout the game.
“We always say defend, rebound and keep the turnovers down. When you do that [it] can put you in position to win no matter who you’re playing against, no matter where you are. But if you neglect that area, then you’re going to pay for it.”
Randle, who had another strong game in making his case for an All-NBA selection, leading the Knicks with 31 points and eight rebounds in 44 minutes, placed the onus on himself.
“I had a chance to finish the job, I gotta finish the job,” said Randle. “The rebound, things happen throughout the course of the game, you can’t blame one play. For me, I’m looking at myself and I gotta finish the job.”