As the final seconds ticked down, there was one simple thought.
“No threes,” Julius Randle said. “Simple. Just no threes.”
But with the Knicks clinging to a two-point lead over the Hornets on Saturday night, Devonte’ Graham shook free from a leaping Frank Ntilikina and had just enough space to deliver his ninth three-point field goal of the game, pushing Charlotte in front with 2.8 seconds remaining.
And when Randle could not counter on the other end, air-balling a desperate shot in the lane, the Knicks fell, 103-102, at Madison Square Garden.
The loss prevented the Knicks from posting their first two-game winning streak of the season. It dropped them to 3-10 and was a huge letdown after an emotional win two nights earlier.
“You don’t want to lose any game, especially when you have a solid lead going,” said coach David Fizdale, whose team had led by 15 points early in the third quarter. “Give them credit. They turned up the defense on us and really shot the heck out of the three-ball — 17-for-48 from three. Obviously, the last one was the back-breaker. I thought Frank was right there and contested it and the kid made a tough shot.”
“I think I almost hit the ball,” Ntilikina said. “I could have done a better job, though.
“He did a good job by having me turn around. The big guy having the ball, I thought he was going to the handoff. I still got there. I think it was a contested shot, but he was hot and he hit it. I mean, good job to them. Myself and our team, we’ve got to learn ourselves first. We’ve got to learn how to stop them.”
Ntilikina said he expected Graham (29 points) to get the ball.
“Yeah, him or [Malik] Monk, because [Monk] hit the game-winning three-pointer [Friday] night,’’ he said. “But of course, Devonte’ played tonight, he was hot. So it was expected that the coach drew in a play for him.”
Mitchell Robinson had 17 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for the Knicks. Marcus Morris and Bobby Portis added 14 points each. PJ Washington had 19 points for Charlotte.
Taj Gibson's dunk gave the Knicks a 64-49 lead with 9:01 left in the third quarter, but Monk's driving layup put the Hornets ahead 75-74 in the final minute of the period.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Knicks in full scramble mode, they looked for someone to provide a lift. With RJ Barrett (22 points) at the line, that might not have seemed like the place to look, given his .464 free-throw shooting entering the game, but he hit a pair to give the Knicks a three-point lead. The next time down the court, he sank a three-pointer. Barrett then fed Randle, who slammed in a driving dunk for a 100-96 lead.
Clinging to a two-point lead in the final minute, the Knicks had the ball, but Randle missed badly on a drive, giving the Hornets one more chance.
After a timeout with 6.2 seconds to play, Charlotte put the ball in the hands of Graham, who drained the shot. He went 9-for-16 from three-point range.
“I just think we didn’t take the game,” Randle said. “We just let them stay around instead of us really just taking the game. We didn’t.”
“I don’t want to get any moral victories out of any of this stuff,” Fizdale said. “We are definitely getting better on the defensive end. We just need to get the consistency going.”