Mental mistakes repeatedly have cost Knicks in close games

Mike Woodson of the Knicks talks with J.R.

Mike Woodson of the Knicks talks with J.R. Smith. (March 16, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

DALLAS -- Tyson Chandler sat slumped in front of his locker trying to explain what had happened in the frenetic final seconds. Carmelo Anthony emerged from the trainer's room on a gimpy left ankle and offered his take. "It was kind of like déjà vu," he said.

He was talking about the Knicks' 102-100 loss to the Rockets on Friday, but he could have been speaking about the season.

Just when the Knicks seemed to have figured out that playing hard can help them win -- they had won in San Antonio the previous night -- they reverted to not playing smart. The sort of late-game mental errors that already had cost the Knicks against the Rockets, Pacers and Wizards hurt them again.

With the score 100-all, Chandler rebounded Beno Udrih's missed three-pointer with 23.6 seconds left and passed it out to Udrih, who threw it to J.R. Smith. The Knicks could have -- and should have -- held for one shot, but Smith fired up a three-pointer as Chandler screamed not to shoot it. Smith missed, Houston's Aaron Brooks got the rebound and was fouled, and his two free throws with 17 seconds left proved to be the difference.

Smith later said he thought the Knicks were losing and that he should have held the ball, calling it "bad basketball IQ by me." But it was the second time in 17 days that a Knicks player didn't know time, score and situation.

On Dec. 18 in Milwaukee, with the Knicks leading by two in the closing seconds of the first overtime, Chandler grabbed an offensive rebound and passed it out to Andrea Bargnani. But instead of holding the ball and waiting until the Bucks fouled him, Bargnani launched a three-pointer that missed with 11.9 seconds left -- and Milwaukee tied it on a tip-in with three-tenths of a second left. The Knicks won in the second OT.

Chandler was asked about the similarities between the plays. His face showed amazement, but when he answered, he didn't want to pile on to Smith. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah. Yeah. At that point, we . . . yeah."

Later, he said, "It's all a learning experience. From a learning experience yeah, you wait for the last shot. You either win the game or go to overtime."

The loss to Houston dropped the Knicks -- who close out their trip Sunday against the Mavericks -- to 2-7 in games decided by four or fewer points.

"I like the way we're competing," Mike Woodson said. "If we stay at this level, we'll be in a lot of games. We've just got to figure out how to win them down the stretch if they're close."

That means playing smart and executing better.

On Nov. 20, with the Knicks leading Indiana by three in the closing seconds, the Pacers' Paul George attempted a three-pointer and Iman Shumpert fouled him with 5.2 seconds left. He made the three free throws, and Indiana won in overtime.

When the Knicks played Houston at the Garden Nov. 14, Anthony fouled Dwight Howard away from the ball in the final two minutes, which led to a three-point trip late in a game the Rockets won by three.

In the Dec. 16 loss to Washington, the Knicks, leading by one and with a foul to give, didn't commit one before Bradley Beal drove for the winning layup with 6.9 seconds left. Then Woodson, with three timeouts available, didn't use one to design a final play.

"We've made some positive steps," Chandler said. "But we got to continue to make positive steps. We've got to learn from our mistakes and be better prepared next time."

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