Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, so understandably, the Knicks are returning to New York with a sour taste in their mouth after letting a winnable game slip away Tuesday night in a 101-98 overtime loss to the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
In the final seconds of regulation, a missed box-out of Wesley Matthews allowed an easy offensive rebound and put-back layup to tie the game at 91 heading into the extra frame. Then the Knicks defense let Talen Horton-Tucker loose to sink the game-winning three-pointer with 20 seconds to go in overtime.
The Knicks head home for a Thursday-night meeting with the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden after a respectable 3-3 west-coast road trip considering the difficulty of the schedule.
New York posted wins against the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Los Angeles Clippers while dropping decisions to the highly-ranked Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns before Tuesday night’s loss that featured the uncharacteristic breakdowns at the most crucial times. Yet they managed to sift their way through the disappointment to understand the value of such a loss.
“We came out of this trip 3-3 and we were one rebound away from having a win,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to learn the intensity of the game. Look, it’s been a long road trip. There’s been a lot of intensity, a lot of fight. But we have to understand the intensity of the end of the game. We’ll learn from it and it’ll be a quick turnaround going home and we’ll have to be ready when we get home.”
Julius Randle, who posted 31 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in the loss to his former team, wasn’t in the business of moral victories; saddling himself with the blame after he was unable to sink a running buzzer-beater at the end of regulation that would have won the Knicks the game.
“Some would call it a success but I feel like we had a chance to go 5-1,” he said. “I had a chance to close it out and make it a successful trip at 4-2, I put it on me.
“I think we’re doing a better job of understanding the intensity but we have to take it up to another level.”
The Knicks’ loss certainly tightens things up in the Eastern Conference playoff race and moves the team’s playoff-clinching result back at least another day. Starting the night in fourth place, the Knicks sank to sixth in the conference with three games left to play behind the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat despite having identical 38-31 records.
Finishing anywhere beneath fourth place ensures they would not get homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, meaning the last three games of the season are all must-wins to put pressure on the Hawks and Heat.
Thursday night’s matchup comes against a Spurs team that is 10th in the west and had lost six of their previous 10 before Wednesday night’s meeting with the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. New York then finishes its season against the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets and seventh-place Boston Celtics.
“It’s tough but we control our own destiny,” Randle said. “So we just have to get back home and finish the job.”