All of Knicks familiar bugaboos present in 134-128 loss to Clippers

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Julius Randle Knicks
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) drives against Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The New York Knicks were mere seconds away from completing an impressive 17-point comeback against a full-strength Los Angeles Clippers squad. But the ball simply didn’t bounce their way as a loose ball scramble led to game-tying Los Angeles three at the end of regulation before the visiting Clippers buried the Knicks in overtime 134-128. 


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In the process, they wasted a Herculean effort by Jalen Brunson who was battling an illness but still paced the Knicks with 41 points on 14-of-19 from the field and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also chipped in seven assists and five rebounds and hit a clutch floater that put the Knicks up three with just 18 seconds left and should have sealed the win. 

While it’s partially true to call the game-tying three by Nicolas Batum as the clock expired bad luck, that doesn’t explain the whole story. When Paul George launches his attempt at the game-tying shot with nine seconds left, the Knicks aggressively crash the defensive boards, but both Julius Randle and RJ Barrett drift toward the basket and lose sight of their men. When the rebound goes long, they’re unable to corral it.  

The in the scramble, the Knicks lose sight of Batum, and Isaiah Hartenstein isn’t able to close out in time. 

However, while luck is certainly a part of this, we covered earlier in the week that the Knicks are one of the worst fourth-quarter rebounding teams in the NBA. New York’s two biggest defensive issues late in games are that they are they rank 28th in opponent’s fourth-quarter rebounding rate and 27th in opponent’s three-pointers made in the fourth quarter). 

Both came back to bite them here. 

Part of the reason was the poor boxing out and discipline, but another issue is the personnel on the court. 

Hartenstein and Randle were the only two players on the court who rank in the Knicks’ top-five in fourth-quarter rebounding rate. Obi Toppin, who ranks 5th in fourth-quarter rebounding rate for the Knicks continued to sit on the bench, playing just 12 minutes in a game that seemed designed for the Knicks to play a smaller lineup. 

Hartenstein and Jericho Sims played a combined 53 minutes against the Clippers on Saturday, scoring a combined five points while snagging 12 rebounds and dishing out six assists. While Hartenstein has been playing much better of late, it’s inexcusable to not use Toppin for more minutes when the Knicks’ two centers were doing next to nothing against a team that doesn’t have a dominant back-to-the-basket center. 

At the bare minimum, Toppin should have been on the court at the end of the game as the Knicks were trying to close out the game. Yet, still, Thibodeau decided to lean on RJ Barrett, who played more minutes than any New York player despite having the worst plus/minus (-20) and shooting just 6-of-21 from the field and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.

Tom Thibodeau of the Knicks
New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Toppin led the team in plus/minus, was 2-of-3 from deep, and played better defense than Barrett, but Tom Thibodeau kept to his rigid rotations. In fact, Toppin, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, and Miles McBride were the reasons for the Knicks’ comeback to begin with, combining to outscore Los Angeles 13-2 over three minutes in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead from 17 to 6.

To make matters worse, Barrett is one of the two worst Knicks this season in plus/minus, yet he remains on the court in crucial situations. Both players that are at the bottom of the season-long plus/minus rankings played a combined 65 minutes against the Clippers while Toppin played just those 12 minutes and Quickley, who leads the team in plus/minus didn’t see the floor in overtime until Quentin Grimes fouled out. 

When overtime started, Ty Lue subbed out his center, Ivica Zubac for Marcus Morris, which means the Clippers were going small ball, but the Knicks didn’t adjust. Toppin remained glued to the bench, and Clippers raced out to an early lead. Even with Hartenstein on the court, the Knicks were outrebounded 6-3 in the extra frame and never really had a chance. 

It was a major strategic misfire by Thibodeau. 

The loss continued a poor year for New York in overtime, just another example of questionable late-game decision-making and execution. The Knicks are now just 3-6 in overtime games, the most losses of any team in the NBA. They shoot just 34.6% from the field and 21.2% from deep in the extra frame, while recording more turnovers than assists.

If New York wins even just two of those games (not to mention the ones they’ve blown in the fourth quarter), they could be sitting in 6th place in the Eastern Conference and be on track to avoid the play-in games. 


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