NEW YORK — Another game that was there for the taking, yet another close loss. This time, to the hated, cross-town rivals.
Despite rallying from a 16-point deficit and making it a one-possession game the final moments for a second straight time on their home floor, the New York Knicks did what often they’ve done this season — let another close one get away, as the Brooklyn Nets held on for a 98-93 victory at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
The loss was the 10th by seven points or less, and the sixth by five points or fewer, for the Knicks (4-15), who dropped their fifth straight game, while the Nets (7-9) won for the third time in five contests following an earlier season-high five-game losing streak.
For Brooklyn, forward Joe Johnson picked up in the second half where center Brook Lopez left off at halftime. Lopez scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the opening half before Johnson netted 19 of his 22 points after the break.
Point guard Deron Williams added 19 points and made five of eight 3-pointers, including a key one with under two minutes left, to keep New York at a safe distance.
Forward Kevin Garnett (who passed his former coach, Jason Kidd, for sixth place in games played, with 1,392) had six points, a game-high 13 rebounds and as he’s done at other times over their careers, harassed star forward Carmelo Anthony into a tough shooting night.
Anthony led the Knicks with 20 points and nine rebounds, but misfired on 15 of his 22 field goal attempts (including six of seven from 3-point range) and missed a pair of 3s, each with a chance to tie the game, in the final minute.
Starting point guard Jose Calderon made five of six 3-pointers and finished with 19 points, seven assists and only one turnover, while usual reserve forward Amar’e Stoudemire made only his third start of the season and posted 17 points and nine boards.
While that wasn’t quite enough once again, New York, which started a similar 3-13 last year, and endured season-long chemistry issues, has remained steadfastly positive with basically the same core, while adding new pieces to its roster, along with an entirely new coaching staff and a drastically different offensive system since last season.
Although the learning curve has been a steep one, the Knicks feel as though they are making progress, especially in a wide open Eastern Conference, in which like last year, a losing record may qualify for the final payoff spot.
“The teams that [are beating us], you can’t tell me that these teams are that much better than us,” Anthony said. “I really believe that and I’m going to keep believing that. We’re fighting, we’re just not getting the results that we want at the end of the games.”
Shooting guard Imam Shumpert (nine points) said, “We’ve lost so many close games, sometimes we play not to lose instead of playing to win,” while adding, “We’ve got the guys that we need to win the games. We’ve got the coaching staff, we’ve got the system, we’ve got to keep working and keep believing in it. If we take care of the little things, those balls will start bouncing our way, those shots will start going in at the end and we’ll get back on track.”
Stoudemire said, “I think the small details, they add up. The games are tight [and] there’s a chance we can still win the ballgame… the record’s the worst part about it. Obviously, you don’t want to see that, when you’re looking at the standings. There’s still a chance, so we’ve got to be optimistic and see what we can do.”
After the Knicks scored the first two points on a jumper by Shumpert, Lopez made his first three shots to spark a run of 10 straight Nets points.
Anthony scored seven points to keep New York within 21-16 late in the opening quarter, but Brooklyn scored the next six to take its biggest lead of the period, before settling for a 27-18 lead going into the second quarter.
As Anthony scored nine first-quarter points on 4-of-7 shooting, his teammates struggled to total as many points on combined 4-of-12 shooting.
New York rallied, though, behind Calderon, who after being shut out in the first quarter, scored eight points in the second period. Calderon’s second of two 3-pointers in the quarter capped a 21-12 stretch that tied the game at 39-apeice. However, the Nets answered with a 7-2 run, to lead, 46-41, before taking a 49-45 edge into the locker room.
Two layups by guard Bojan Bogdanovic, sandwiched around a 3-pointer and jumper by Johnson, pushed Brooklyn’s lead to 58-48, less than three minutes into the second half. Later in the quarter, Williams made 3-pointers from each wing, first to put the Nets up 66-53, and then to expand their lead to a game-high 71-55.
Brooklyn, which currently sits in the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, 4½ games ahead of New York, maintained a 77-64 lead by the end of the quarter. But consecutive 3-pointers from reserve point guard Shane Larkin (eight points) cut the Knicks’ deficit to 81-74, and a trey by fellow reserve guard Pablo Prigioni (six points, five rebounds) moved New York to within 83-79, just before the midpoint of the final period.
The Nets scored the next six points, the last four by Johnson, to go up, 89-79, but the Garden was soon brought to a fever pitch after a 9-2 run (which was finished with four straight points from Stoudemire) cut Brooklyn’s lead to 91-88, with 2:25 to play.
Williams and Calderon then traded 3s, and after Calderon stole the ball from Johnson, reserve center Cole Aldrich was blocked by Lopez. Aldrich recovered the ball and found Anthony for a right wing 3-pointer which could have tied the game at 94-all, with 48.1 seconds remaining, but Anthnoy missed.
Johnson was fouled by Shumpert and made two free throws to give Brooklyn a 96-91 lead, but an off-balance jumper from the right elbow by Calderon gave New York hope, at 96-93.
A Garnett miss gave Anthony another chance to tie the game from behind the arc, but his straight-away 3-pointer was too strong with nine seconds left, and Johnson made two more free throws to close it out.
Rookie head coach Derek Fisher tried to call for a 20-second time out to set up a play before Anthony’s final shot, but his signal near mid-court wasn’t seen by referee Mark Lindsay. Anthony didn’t notice Fisher’s intent and went with what he later called “a great look,” but his 3-pointer hit the back of the rim with 9.2 seconds left.
“I got the ball, I looked over, I didn’t see anything, anyone calling a time out, so I kept going,” Anthony said. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to set up and switch and trap, and do things like that. So I had a clean one-on-one shot and I missed it.”
“He said he didn’t see it,” Fisher said of Linsday not seeing the time out signal. “I thought he was looking right at me. I was signaling. He said he didn’t see it though.”
Brooklyn enjoyed significant advantages in paint scoring (48-26) and on the offensive boards (21-13), but New York countered that by heating up from long distance after a poor start from that area.
Overcoming a 1-10 start from 3-point range (on the heels of shooting just 3-for-24 and 2-for-19 from that distance in their previous two games), the Knicks, who were ranked first or second in the NBA in 3-point accuracy until very recently, finished 10-for-18 from behind the arc.
In the end, though, their star couldn’t get one to fall when they need it the most.
However, that won’t deter Fisher from going back to Anthony during similar situations in the future.
“Carmelo taking a pull-up three is not the worst shot we can get,” he said. “Something we would have drawn up would have probably included that in some way, anyway… I have no problem with Carmelo believing in his ability to make the play to help us get a win down the stretch.”
Reflecting on what lies ahead, Fisher said, “We have a lot of guys that want this badly… if we were 4-15 and every time you watch us play, we couldn’t beat the other team, I’d be concerned. But we’re seeing enough to let us know that if we just control the parts we can control, we can actually win some of these games.
“So am I happy about it? No. None of those players in [our] locker room are happy about it. But ‘concerned’ is a defeated word. That’s a word of not believing that you can still figure things out, and we still believe [we can] right now.”
Anthony added, “I don’t think we’re looking at the 4-15 [record] right now, just how we’re losing the basketball games, that’s the frustrating part.”
Agreeing with Anthony, Shumpert, Stoudemire and Fisher, Calderon said the Knicks are not that far away from winning the types of close games they’ve been losing.
“We’re right there,” he said. “We’ve just got to clean up some stuff… I don’t think these teams are better than us. I think we’ve been fighting. We’re right there with them… we’ve just got to do a better job for 48 minutes.
“It’s tough to lose and see 15 losses [in 19 games], but even with all that, [we’re] 4½ games out of the playoffs. So we’re just trying to see the big picture. We’ve got to keep being positive, keep being together and keep working hard. That’s all we can do right now. We knew it was going to be a process. We have to be patient. It’s tough for us, for [our] fans, but we’re going to keep fighting and try to turn this around. Sometimes, when you get a win, everything [can] change.”
The next chance for the Knicks to get that victory and stop their latest losing streak will be on Thursday night, as New York concludes a three-game homestand against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Prior to their current 3-14 stretch, the Knicks had their signature win of the season, pulling off a stunning upset in Cleveland in their second game of the year.