NEW YORK — This one was there for the taking with a couple of good reasons to pull out a win. But in the end, the New York Knicks were plagued by what has usually troubled them this season.
Rather than being able to avenge a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in their previous game, or put an end to an extended, early season losing streak, the dreaded “Third Quarter of Doom” and an inability to get to the foul line led to the Knicks’ fifth straight loss, as the Hawks (3-3) completed a sweep of a home-and-home series with a 91-85 victory at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
Despite holding Atlanta to 38 percent shooting, making nine more (36-27) field goals, outscoring the Hawks (32-24) in the paint, and holding slim edges in rebounding (40-38) and second-chance points (15-12), New York (2-6) — which ranks last in the NBA in points scored, free throws attempted and made, and drawing fouls — let a seven-point third-quarter lead get away on a night when Atlanta took 16 more foul shots (28-12) and made 20 more (27-7).
Even though the Knicks uncharacteristically started the third quarter strongly, the Hawks responded with a 22-8 run in the period, to flip a seven-point deficit into a lead of the same margin; and Atlanta never trailed again.
Forward Camelo Anthony tried to keep New York close late, as he scored 11 of his game-high 25 points (to go along with a team-high nine rebounds and a game-high seven assists) in the final quarter, including nine of the Knicks’ first 15 points in the period. His jumper with 2:52 left capped a 9-3 spurt that brought New York to within 75-74, but the Hawks scored the next six points to go back up by seven in the final minute.
Forward Iman Shumpert added 18 points and five assists, guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. scored 15 points, and guard J.R. Smith had a dozen points off the bench.
However, that trio was neutralized by 17 points (and eight rebounds) from forward Kyle Korver, 14 points from reserve guard Dennis Schroder and 12 from center Al Horford, each of whom provided nice complements to the team-high 19 points forward Paul Millsap scored.
Early on, New York scored eight straight points (four each from Anthony and Shumpert) to lead, 14-9, but 3-pointers from Millsap and forward DeMarre Carroll (nine points, 10 rebounds) bookended a quarter-ending 8-2 run that put Atlanta on top, 17-16, during a lackluster opening period.
Anthony took the only free throws of the quarter, one in which neither team shot well from the floor (Atlanta was just 7-for-20, New York only 7-for-22).
The Knicks’ bench (with each Smith — J.R. and reserve center Jason — and backup guard Pablo Prigioni scoring) keyed a 7-2 run that move New York ahead, 23-19, as the second quarter began.
A Hardaway jumper off of a curl tied the game, 38-38, and allowed New York to avoid its lowest scoring first half (37 points, in Detroit, three games earlier) of the season.
It was the second-straight low-scoring half for the Knicks against the Hawks after they erupted in their previous half in Atlanta.
After scoring 61 points in the first half, and leading by 13 points at halftime in Atlanta on Saturday night, New York scored just 35 points in the second half of that game, to lose by seven points.
The Hawks shot only 32.4 percent (12-for-37) in the first half on Monday night, but they were 10-for-10 at the free throw line (all in the second quarter) while the Knicks failed to get to the foul line in the period.
Behind 3-pointers from Shumpert and Hardaway (whose trey was assisted on by Shumpert) and a conventional three-point play from Hardaway, the Knicks began the third quarter on a 9-2 run, to lead, 47-40. But Korver, who started only 1-for-9 (including 1-for-7 from 3-point range) before making three of his last four shots, capped a 10-2 run with a wide open, right-wing trey that put the Hawks up, 50-49.
Continuing an early season trend of getting outplayed far worse in the third quarter than any other period this season, New York watched Atlanta run out to a 64-57 lead, before a Jason Smith jumper accounted for the final points of the period.
Commenting on his team’s latest failures during a pivotal third period, Hardaway, Jr. said. “Every time, he come in at halftime and say, ‘This is a must-win third quarter for us,’ but it just doesn’t fall that way.”
An Anthony jumper closed the gap to 64-63 during the opening minute of the fourth quarter, but an 8-2 run gave Atlanta some breathing room, at 72-65, with 8:45 remaining.
While the losses keep mounting, rookie head coach Derek Fisher has done a good job of helping his team stay the course with learning a new offensive system and being patient until the Knicks can go back to winning, as they did when they won consecutive game prior to their current losing streak.
“I think it’s early in the season, for sure, [for us] to learn how to finish and close games,” Fisher said. “I told the guys tonight that I’m sorry that I can’t chalk up a ‘W’ for them with the kind of effort they are giving.”
Hardaway said, “We feel fine, even though we’ve been losing [lately]. We’re [still] excited and motivated… we want to win. I hope everybody sees that.”
Taking a similar optimistic outlook, Anthony said, “I think anytime you’re going through the situation we’re going through right now, it’s always good to have some positive energy in the locker room. It kind of reinforces the things that we did from a good standpoint.
“It’s easy after several losses to come in the locker room and keep hitting the nail on the head and saying what we didn’t do. For [Fisher], it was just trying to keep the morale of the team up, trying to keep guys encouraged… just keeping guys’ confidence high.
“Anytime you… go on a losing streak, that negative energy can start seeping in the locker room. Guys can start second guessing themselves and second guessing the situation that they’re in, and that’s not what we want.”
What they do want, and need, most of all, are wins, especially after starting a season-long four-game homestand with yet another defeat.
The Knicks will next get a chance to find one of those against Orlando, on Wednesday night, before closing out their current stretch at the Garden by hosting Utah, on Friday night, and Denver, during a Sunday matinee.