Do the Knicks and other NBA teams have a lot of upside, or does it just seem like it?
Just a few days ago, Julius Randle he laughed to himself in front of a group of reporters. He shook his head.
“Oh my God,” he said. “It’s about time we won one of those types of games.”
The New York Knicks had just survived a late near-comeback win by the Toronto Raptorswho trailed by 16 with just over three minutes remaining but pulled two early. New York closed out a 112-108 victory. Finally, the Knicks had looked the basketball gods in the leather face and fended off a potential catastrophe.
The end was spectacular, but a win is a win. And this particular win meant the Knicks were singing, winners of four straight games. After all, a lead isn’t a lead if one team never gets the lead, no matter how close the opponent gets.
“We made free throws at the end and ran down the stretch,” Randle said, before throwing the punch line. “And they didn’t hit all the ridiculous shots.”
“Ridiculous” is one way to put it. No doubt, every time the Knicks blow a big lead, who they play morphs into 1996 in some way. Chicago Bulls. Several actors have played the role of MJ.
Luka Doncic? ridiculous
DeMar DeRozan? ridiculous
Straw subsidy? Also ridiculous.
And now, add a little more ridiculousness to the fold: Monday night, in the postgame win in Toronto, the Knicks went up 17 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks but he couldn’t close the deal. The Bucks caught fire from 3-point land and roared back in the second half to pull away New York’s streak ended with a 111-107 win.
It’s the seventh time this season the Knicks have been up double digits in a game but lost. Some of the losses have been particularly heartbreaking, like letting go of a nine-point lead with half a minute left in Dallas or when that 23-point lead ended. Atlanta Hawks evaporated
The Knicks can’t hold the lead. But this has a bigger context: neither does the rest N.B.A.
Thanks to The AthleticNBA analytics guru Seth Partnow, who compiled league-wide lead stats for this story, now knows the Knicks are one of seven teams to have blown at least seven double-digit leads in losses this season. Fourteen teams have blown at least six double-digit leads in turnovers; 21 have flown at least five. Every team has turned at least three double-digit leads into turnovers except the Memphis Grizzlieswho somehow still wanted one.
The Portland Trail Blazers they have a 14-point comeback against the Knicks, but have also blown double-digit leads in new losses this season, the biggest in the NBA. The Hawks silenced Madison Square Garden when they came off the back of that 23-point comeback, but they’ve also suffered from the other side of that, blowing double-digit leads in eight of their defeats this season. Dončić broke hearts with his intentionally missed free throw that turned into a game-tying floater, but… you can probably guess where this is going; the Mavericks they’ve dropped double-digit leads eight of their losses.
The reality is (unless you’re in Memphis) this happens all the time now.
The popularization of the triple has changed the game. You take three straight stares from the corner and you’re back at it. If one or two role players get the hot hand, as some Bucks did Monday night, the dynamic turns. Difficulties like the one the Knicks suffered against Milwaukee happen almost every night in the NBA these days. A losing team has blown a double-digit lead in 26 percent of games played in the league this season.
And now, as Randle was, head coach Tom Thibodeau is laughing, too.
“I kind of laugh because there’s no lead in this league. … A 20-point lead with three minutes (standing), you’re not safe,” Thibodeau said over the weekend. “With the 3, with the way the game is officiated, what happens is you can get the floor back quickly.”
On Monday, it was a team effort from Milwaukee.
Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez i Grayson Allen each hit a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter. Holiday looked unstoppable draining back steps down the stretch. Joe English sunk two to third. The Knicks frustrated the Bucks for most of the game, collapsing hard from the perimeter in the paint. When you’re up against a two-time MVP like Giannis Antetokounmpo, you have to give something up and hope it doesn’t come back to bite you. The Knicks chose the 3 ball. It didn’t hurt them until it did.
The Knicks have late-game kinks to work out. They are far from the Grizzlies, who cling to the wires with clenched fists.
Crucial free kicks have been missed. Crime has stagnated. Sometimes, they’ve completely collapsed, like in the final 30 seconds in Dallas or when Atlanta turned a 23-point deficit into a double-digit lead in just one quarter.
Their lack of 3-point shooting means they can’t match a team like Milwaukee when it’s hot. It was hard to ignore the disparity from behind the arc on Monday. Both teams allowed the other to make 3s, but the Bucks made 19 of their 49 attempts and the Knicks made just 11 of 41.
New York can score, but the offense is methodical. It is not built to go tit for tat from the depths.
But this trend is also not as extreme as it seems. All of these clues may seem outlandish at this point, but the Knicks are not alone.
Seth Partnow contributed to this story.
(Julius Randle Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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