When the Brooklyn Nets set up for a final shot Friday night, putting the ball in the hands of Caris LeVert, Twitter -- and Knicks analyst Walt Frazier -- reacted immediately, wondering why Tim Hardaway Jr. was isolated at the top of the key defensively against LeVert.
The Knicks had better defenders on the floor, and Hardaway -- even though he’d been matched up for much of the game against former University of Michigan teammate LeVert -- failed to prevent LeVert from going right, which Hardaway wanted to do. Even Clarence Gaines, the former Knicks scout and the man who received much of the credit for drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina, weighed in on Twitter, noting that he would have liked to have seen Ntilikina get that defensive assignment.
But a day later, Knicks coach David Fizdale not only stood by his decision but stood by his player.
“I want you guys to look at it like this – there was a day I played,” Fizdale said. “If I was in a game playing against a high school teammate, for [Hardaway] his college teammate, and we’re going tit for tat, 28, 29, back and forth, back and forth, and the last play of the game the coach goes, ‘Hey, I’m going to put [another defender on him],’ I might lose Timmy. That could crush him.
“No. This is a development year. That’s part of Timmy’s development. He’s got to take that challenge. I can’t hide him. He’s got to dig in and get that stop. He didn’t get it last night, but he knows I believe he can. We’re going to keep working at it. It was just a personnel breakdown. He knew that kid wanted to go right and he let him get right. We’ll fix that issue and the next time get the stop. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me trying to manipulate the situation to hopefully win a game or whatever it is. The areas that I’m trying to get these guys to be better at when it comes up in a game, I’ve got to let them go through that. I can’t hide it from them."
Fizdale said he spoke with Hardaway after the game, particularly after Hardaway willingly accepted the blame for the loss. Hardaway said he had failed defensively and also that he took too many shots.
“What he said last night, I talked to the team and talked to him today,” Fizdale said. “I thought he showed great leadership on his part to own the last possession defensively and also own how many shots he took. … I know what it was. He and that kid went to college together and they were going at it. So he was really trying to win that battle. I commend him for that. That’s why there was no way I was taking him off that kid on the last possession. I’m trying to make Timmy into a complete basketball player. He needed to go through that and take that challenge. Hey, the kid scored, but he learned from it and he knows I believe in him as a defender now.’’