Carmelo Anthony was back but it didn’t help the sliding Knicks from stopping their skid.
The Knicks’ ninth loss in 10 games followed a familiar script. They got off to a bad start, had to erase a double-digit deficit and their offense sputtered during crunch time.
Anthony missed a potential game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds, and the Knicks fell, 101-96, to the Nuggets on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
“The same story like almost every game lately,” Kristaps Porzingis said after the Knicks’ third straight loss dropped them to a season-worst eight games under .500 at 23-31. “We start off slow, missing shots, not having the energy, and then it takes a lot of energy for us to get back in the game. So it’s very frustrating.”
The Knicks were down double digits in the first quarter for the third straight game and trailed by 19 in the second. But they fought back and led 88-86 with 7:01 left. The Knicks went nearly five minutes without a field goal and scored just eight points the rest of the way.
Anthony, who sat out Friday’s game with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee, shot 7-for-19 and had 21 points and seven assists. He missed two three-point attempts that could have tied the game down the stretch in the fourth. One came with 4:09 left.
Porzingis rebounded from an 0-for-6 start to finish with 21 points and 13 rebounds. He had 13 in the third to lead the Knicks back, but scored just two in the fourth — in the final minute of the game.
Derek Fisher said too much is being put on the Knicks’ end-of-game situations. The real issue, he said, is their sluggish starts, for which he said he takes some blame.
“Just an overall lack of readiness, whether mental or physical,” Fisher said. “I’ll take some responsibility for it — whatever is or isn’t happening so that we’re ready to play right at the tipoff. I think we have to figure that out.
“The last three or four games at least, wipe out the first quarter in terms of us giving up those leads in the beginning, we won the rest of the game. So it’s something we have to look at.”
The Knicks were booed in the second quarter when the Nuggets (21-31) got open shots and dunks to build a 19-point cushion. But like the Knicks’ previous two losses, it was a one-possession game in the closing seconds.
Down 97-94, the Knicks came up with a big stop and Porzingis rebounded with 18.9 seconds to go. Fisher chose not to call timeout. Instead, the Knicks pushed the ball and Anthony attempted a rushed and off-balance three-pointer with 11.8 seconds left that didn’t drop.
“I was a little off-balance,” Anthony said. “I felt it. That’s kind of been the past week or so. The shot just don’t feel right, off-balance a little bit, trying to find that rhythm. I thought I got a good look at it. It almost went in. I’ll take that rather than in that situation calling a timeout, letting the defense set.”
Denver rebounded and the Knicks fouled Will Barton, who knocked down both free throws to make it a five-point game with 7.8 seconds left. Barton and former Knick Danilo Gallinari each scored 19 to lead the Nuggets. Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay added 15 points and nine assists.
It was the second straight game Fisher opted to bypass a timeout so the defense wouldn’t get a chance to set. It happened in Friday’s loss to Memphis, and Arron Afflalo’s potential game-tying pull-up jumper rimmed in and out.
“The look Melo had in transition, it looked like he was a little bit off balance but still a pretty clean look against a defense that’s not really set,” Fisher said. “You could call a timeout there but they had been doing a pretty good job of out of timeouts putting five guys in so they could switch everything.
“But we’re putting ourselves in position where we’re hoping that every single thing is perfect at the end of the game when we’re putting ourselves down by 10, 12, 15, 18 points to start and having to work our way back.”