The Knicks lost another heartbreaker on Monday night, falling to a heavily depleted Nets team 114-112 despite having as large as a 14-point lead in the game.
The Nets started the game missing Kevin Durant (hamstring) and Blake Griffin (knee), and saw James Harden leave four minutes into the game with some lingering hamstring tightness that kept him out of two games last week.
The Knicks took advantage of this early, jumping out to the big lead and taking a 10-point lead into halftime. But the Nets — and more preciously, Kyrie Irving — came back.
Irving put up 40 points on the Nets to help keep them afloat after Harden went down and eventually roar back to take an eight-point lead in the fourth.
Though the Knicks managed to fight back to tie things up at 112, Jeff Green knocked down two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to leave the final shot up to someone on the Blue and Orange side of New York.
Julius Randle, who was magnificent on the night with a triple-double, took an 18-foot fade jumper at the buzzer to try to send the game into OT, but it hit off the back rim and out.
“Just want to be on the other side, on the winning side,” RJ Barrett said after the loss.
And that is the Knicks’ biggest mistake of the season: not trading for a closer or acquiring one in free agency.
First, lets discuss the free agency side. The Knicks’ best chance at a legitimate closer was Gordon Hayward, who was on their radar all offseason.
Ultimately, his price was too high and he signed in Charlotte. At the time, it seemed more than fair to call that four-year, $128 million contract “too high.” His time in Boston did not scream “$30+ million a year player.”
But before he went down with a foot injury, Hayward was having a resurgent season, putting up nearly 20 points and six rebounds per game on 47.3 percent shooting and 41.5 percent shooting from three.
His price was still too high, but not making a big move in free agency wasn’t as big of a deal since we didn’t know then that the Knicks would be in contention for as high as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference….
That brings us to the trade market. There weren’t too many options available or even rumored to be available at the deadline, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any out there.
Zach LaVine was involved in rumors. Victor Oladipo was traded not once, but twice before the deadline. Bradley Beal wouldn’t have been able to complain too much about leaving Washington to come to New York and be the new face of the franchise.
And yet none of in a Knicks uniform.
Some of that is understandable. Chicago chose to commit to LaVine (at least this season) by trading for another All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, but maybe they could’ve gotten him earlier in the season before the Bulls made that decision.
Oladipo had a lot of question marks around him, but looking at the weak haul the Houston Rockets got for him from Miami, the Knicks surely could’ve offered them something light that wouldn’t have been too detrimental to the team chemistry.
Beal made it clear all season that he wanted to remain with the Wizards, even when they were by far the worst team out the gate at the start of the season. They’ve since improved and have an outside shot at making a play-in game, so surely he still wouldn’t have wanted out. Seeing what the Knicks have done this season and being able to come to New York would still have been an enticing option to say the least.
What happened Monday night, and what’s happened on numerous occasions this season, is the Knicks have a hard time closing out games because they don’t have that legit closer.
Yes, Randle is an All-Star and the best player of the team, but he’s also known for taking bad shot or making bad passes at inopportune times.
Having the ball in a real closer’s hands this season could’ve potentially helped separate the Knicks from the rest of the mid-tier teams under the top three that seem to shuffle spots every other night.
But now it’s too late. The Knicks will have to use what they’ve got on hand. And although that may be good enough to help them squeeze into the play-in games and even the real playoffs, it won’t have them playing much longer than that.