ATLANTA — There were a number of pronouncements this week that the Knicks needed to be more assertive and defensive. And after Carmelo Anthony asserted himself with an elbow that got him ejected on Wednesday night, it became all the more necessary for the Knicks to play better defense.
Anthony was tossed out in the second quarter, with the Knicks trailing by 3 points, for elbowing Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha in the face. But the rest of the Knicks did not retreat. Instead, they jammed passing lanes and contested shots and grabbed loose balls as they wrestled to make up for the loss of Anthony’s scoring punch. The Knicks are supposed to be all about offense, but they made something of a statement playing without their star in a 102-98 overtime loss to the Hawks.
“I thought it was a step forward for us simply because we played pretty good defense — we made it tough on them,” Coach Jeff Hornacek said. “For the most part, our guys were really getting after it defensively.”
The Knicks have been a poor defensive team — they were 25th in the N.B.A. in points allowed and gave up 119 in a loss to Boston on Sunday — but they forced the Hawks into jump shots, and Atlanta shot just 36 percent from the field.
Anthony scored 10 points. He walked out of the locker room after his teammates had left and would not comment on his flagrant foul.
The Hawks were leading by 41-38 when Anthony got into his scrap with Sefolosha, just below the foul line in front of the Knicks’ bench. An aggressive defender, Sefolosha was boxing Anthony out, and Anthony, offended by the rough tactics, lashed out with his arm. Sefolosha charged at Anthony, and both were hit with technical fouls.
The officials reviewed the play, right along with the Philips Arena crowd. It was an easy call, and Anthony was soon tossed out.
Anthony’s teammates almost made it through without him and the starting guard Courtney Lee, who did not play because of an injured wrist. Derrick Rose scored 26 points, and Kristaps Porzingis scored 24 — though each had costly late-game miscues on the offensive end. Still, there was solace: The Knicks looked alive on defense and on the boards. Atlanta out-rebounded the Knicks by just one, 56-55.
“Today we proved that we stick together no matter what,” Porzingis said. “There were tough moments in the game, and we didn’t play our best basketball, but we kept fighting. It was our defense today that got us that far. We play for each other.
“After Boston, we knew we had to get better as a team defensively.”
The Knicks, trailing in overtime, 97-91, with 1 minute 59 seconds to play, fought back to trail by 98-97, with possession. Rose pivoted along the left baseline with the ball, but slipped and turned it over with eight seconds left. Forced to foul, the Knicks put the Hawks’ Dennis Schroder on the line, and he made two free throws to make the score 100-97. The Knicks had one more chance.
Justin Holiday inbounded to Porzingis, who faked Sefolosha into the air behind the arc and drew a foul with 3.6 seconds remaining. But Porzingis missed the first free throw. He made the second, but the Knicks were down, 100-98, and were finally finished.
“I was thinking I have to hit all three, and I missed the first one,” Porzingis said.
Nerves were not the issue, Porzingis said. “I just missed the free throw,” he said. “I’m super disappointed I missed such an important free throw.”
Even without Lee, the Knicks looked better on the defensive end in the first quarter, but that had much to do with the Hawks’ ineptitudes. Atlanta committed five turnovers in the quarter and missed a number of open shots.
The Knicks were leading by 8 in the second quarter, with Anthony still in the game. But Schroder, the Hawks’ point guard, began to cause problems with his quickness. One of the more feeble parts of the Knicks defense has been guarding the ball, and Schroder slashed his way to 9 points in a span of 1:51. He finished with 27.
Yet it was possible to see progress from the Knicks even during the game. The Knicks were twice able to foil Schroder late and give themselves chances to win. With the score tied, 85-85, the Knicks forced Schroder to stop his drive and miss a jumper. Then, on the final shot of regulation, Rose cut off a drive by Schroder and forced a chancy shot with two seconds remaining.
The Knicks took it to overtime, and lost, but by then they had given a glimpse of what they could be if they can pair a little more defense with their offense.
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