After a couple of good wins on consecutive night to end last week, the New York Knicks were in position to keep things rolling with an early Sunday afternoon matinee game at Madison Square Garden.
A matchup against struggling Philadelphia, which came to New York with a 1-5 record seemed to be a great set up for the Knicks to notch their third straight win and move to a solid 4-2 start to the season.
And then, the Knicks remembered that although their opponent on Sunday was young, the Knicks themselves, are the NBA’s fourth youngest team and still have a lot of maturing to do, especially with closing out games in the fourth quarter.
New York rebounded from a slow start to lead by as many as nine points in the third quarter. But, after going on a 5-0 run to lead by one in the final period, the Knicks were done in a by a 15-4 game-ending run that allowed the 76ers to steal a 106-96 win and send New York right back to the .500 mark, at 3-3.
It was unfortunately, familiar territory for the Knicks. Rather than beginning the season with a winning record after three games, the Knicks started 1-2 because of a similar end to their home opener, when Portland wiped out a different nine-point Knick lead with an eerily comparable 17-4 run to beat New York.
To the Knicks’ credit, they responded well, winning easily in Chicago on Thursday night and back at MSG the following night.
But once again, the young Knicks folded late with a potential victory at hand on Sunday.
There were a number of reasons for the latest collapse, from a lack of protecting the ball late and an inability to shoot from the perimeter on the offensive end, to defensive lapses.
Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters after the game, “We had some mental lapses… I thought we pressed down the stretch. We have to make sure we’re a little bit tougher than that… We were up and just started fouling and that just killed us… There are going to be ups and downs. We’re a young team.”
A poor start didn’t help, either. “We came out too, not focused like we need to be,” D’Antoni added. “We’ve been starting soft and we can’t do that.”
New York forward, Wilson Chandler, who had been playing well in his new role off the bench this season, but who struggled to a poor shooting game, scoring just 11 points on 4 of 14 shooting from the field, also recognized the Knicks’ need to start games with greater focus. “We’ve got to be ready every game and play with a sense of urgency,” he said.
The Knicks, who left the court to a smattering of boos, were led by forward Amar’e Stoudemire’s 21 points and 15 rebounds. Reserve point guard Toney Douglas had 17 points in 26 minutes off the bench (but missed all four of his three-point attempts) and starting forward Danilo Gallinari added 15 points.
The Sixers were paced by 20 points from starting forward Elton Brand. Starting point guard Jrue Holiday and reserve guard Louis Williams scored 19 points apiece, rookie guard and second overall draft pick Evan Turner added 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, and starting forward Andres Nocioni scored 11 points for Philadelphia.
Each team had 20 assists, 16 turnovers, and shot 71 percent (25 of 35) from the free throw line. The key difference was from behind the three-point arc, where the 76ers shot 39 percent (7-for-18) to New York’s 16 percent (3-for-19).
The Knicks will look to start another win streak on Tuesday night against the Bucks (2-5) in Milwaukee, before returning home the following night to host Golden State (4-1), which is off to a good start with the help of former Knick David Lee (12.2 points, 12.2 rebounds per game).