Which came first: the Knicks’ fourth quarters from hell or their lack of confidence in those fourth quarters?
Either way, the troublesome trend is playing a key role in sinking their playoff hopes with time running out in their season.
The Knicks’ fourth-quarter struggles reared their ugly head again Sunday against the 76ers, when they entered the final 12 minutes trailing by two points before losing 125-109. Tom Thibodeau’s crew even led early in the fourth quarter and then was down 106-105 with seven minutes left, only to muster just four points the rest of the way.
“Our togetherness down the stretch is not good enough,” guard Evan Fournier said after the loss. “By togetherness I mean we are not tied together enough. Down the stretch, like I said, we have no confidence, so we are second-guessing at times. It should be second nature — boom, boom, boom, this is what we’re doing. As long as we are not doing that, it’s going to be hard to close out games against teams that are good.
“It keeps happening and that’s what’s so frustrating.”
Over their last 10 games, the Knicks have been outscored 289-206 in the fourth quarter. They are shooting 33 percent, including 20.7 percent from deep, with 37 turnovers in those fourth quarters while opponents shoot 44.9 percent.
The numbers are even worse over the last five games — all losses despite holding double-digit leads in four of them. The Knicks have been outscored 153-83 in the fourth quarter of those five games, shooting 26.1 percent and 11.9 percent from deep with 21 turnovers while opponents shoot 46.3 percent.
The Knicks’ net rating (estimated point differential per 100 possessions) in the fourth quarter over their last 10 games is -34.9 — last in the NBA, with the Rockets (-21.4) the next closest. Their fourth-quarter offensive rating (estimated points scored per 100 possessions) in that span is 85.5, well below the next-closest team, the Trail Blazers (100).
“I feel like we’re in a position right now where we are down two or down three, 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.”
Having a veteran point guard to run the offense late in games — and therefore instill some of that confidence in crunch time — would also help.
The Knicks, who are 1-6 in their last seven games decided by 10 points or fewer, thought they were getting Derrick Rose back coming out of the All-Star break to lead a chase for the play-in tournament. Instead he has been further sidelined by a second procedure on his surgically repaired ankle.
Rose’s absence has been felt, especially late in games. The Knicks’ offensive rating in the fourth quarter before his injury was the fourth-best in the NBA at 115 (through 29 games, of which Rose played 26). In 32 games since then, their offensive rating in the fourth quarter is 101.4, which is dead last in the league during that stretch.
When asked about the Knicks’ lack of a true point guard hurting the offense, Fournier noted that while they would love to have more ball handlers, he didn’t think that was the problem because they have generally been playing well offensively prior to the final 12 minutes of a game.
But the fourth quarter is a different beast.
“I think experience, particularly when you have a lead, controlling and managing the game — the fourth quarter’s different,” Thibodeau said. “The intensity of the fourth quarter is different. Decision-making is different. When you have an experienced guy in that position, I think you can control things a lot better. So we’re working on it. We gotta get better at it.”