Second-half collapses are becoming an all-too-familiar narrative for a Knicks team that is quickly falling out of relevancy in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
After building a lead as large as 16 points on Wednesday night in Philadelphia — potentially souring the home debut of James Harden — the 76ers outscored the Knicks 38-19 in the third quarter on their way to a 15-point win, 123-108.
“I just think we got to be fighting on the defensive end,’’ Knicks forward Julius Randle said. “[Head coach Tom Thibodeau] had to call a timeout in the first minutes of the second half because we weren’t fighting enough. It starts with us. We’re not getting stops at critical moments. Teams are getting on runs.”
The fall from grace on the defensive side of the ball has been astounding for a Knicks team that had the NBA’s best defense last season.
This year, however, has been a completely different story.
Despite allowing an average of 107.3 points per game, which is the fifth-best in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks’ second-half defensive rating since Feb. 1 is ranked 29th out of 30 teams in the league (h/t NBA).
“When you look at who we were last year, we were the best defensive team in the league and prided ourselves on getting stops at critical moments,’’ Randle said. “We’d string together three, four stops in a row. One of the things our coaching staff shows us after games is how many times we got three stops in a row. We’re not doing that enough.’’
For a team that isn’t predicated on offensive firepower, recent defensive struggles provide a clear indicator as to why the Knicks are just 3-16 over their last 19 games.
It’s done a number on the team’s confidence, as guard Evan Fournier alluded to on Sunday.
“I feel like we’re in a position right now where we are down two or three and teams get on a run. It’s like, ‘oh s–t, again,’” Fournier said. “Maybe just a good win would help us more, more confidence would help.”
Randle echoed those sentiments.
“I feel like as a team there could be a lack of confidence in general, maybe. When you start losing a few in a row, it kind of kills the team spirit,” Randle admitted. “I personally try to do something to inspire our game, give words of encouragement. But it’s a really hard league. That’s why winning is so precious. We got to find a way to get one.’’
With 20 games to go, the Knicks are certainly up against it. They have six games remaining on their current road trip that resumes on Friday night against the powerhouse defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.