SALT LAKE CITY — Jeff Hornacek wants to see much more fire and passion from the Knicks at the start of games and throughout them, and challenged his team to play with more pride.
Hornacek was understandably upset Wednesday night after one of the Knicks’ worst defeats of the season. The Knicks trailed the struggling Grizzlies, who were missing three starters, by 18 points in the third quarter and lost, 105-99.
The players, particularly Courtney Lee, were peeved with the officiating. Lee was whistled for a technical foul before a jump ball with 17.8 seconds left and the Knicks down three. The Last Two Minute Report released Thursday by the NBA said the technical on Lee was the correct call. All technicals are reviewed by League Operations.
Hornacek, however, didn’t blame the referees. He said all the blame was on his players, particularly the starters, and criticized them for overlooking Memphis, which came in with a 14-28 record. Whether they received Hornacek’s message should be learned Friday night against the Jazz, which has lost 15 of its last 20.
“They have to take that anger that they had in the locker room after the game into the next one,” Hornacek said Wednesday night. “Talk is cheap. You have to go out there on the court and do it. You can talk about it all you want. It’s going out there and having that desperation. We played with desperation when we were down 18. That’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to do it right from the start, play hard.”
The Knicks started to play defense late in the third quarter and through the fourth, but Hornacek said it was way too late.
“That’s a pride thing,” he said. “You’re not playing for a half or three quarters and think you’re going to turn it on — we’re not that team. We’ve said it a thousand times. We’re not that team that thinks we’re just going to just play the game. We have to scrap and claw.”
The Knicks left for this six-game trip against Western Conference teams confident that they can have success and remain in the playoff picture, if not jump into one of the top eight seeds. They’re 10th, three games out of eighth. But the Knicks appeared too confident against Memphis. At 20-25, and 5-16 on the road, the Knicks can’t afford to take any team lightly or go through the motions at any point.
“We’re all frustrated,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “We all want to win. We just need to understand in our minds what are the things we need to do throughout the game to be able to be in position to win late in the game. Not have all that pressure late in the game, and that’s when we start playing and we turn it up. We need to have that early on, and then we’ll be fine.”
Hornacek has mentioned trying different lineups, whether at the start of games or after halftime. He could make a move in the third quarter if the Knicks don’t respond Friday.
The Knicks consistently have started slowly in the third quarter. That’s when Memphis built its 18-point lead. When the Knicks came back, they had five reserves on the floor at the end of the third and into the fourth.
“The starting group has got to do a better job,” Hornacek said. “We had a group out there that got after it, made them take tougher shots. If you let a guy take a shot in this league and think that putting a hand up late is going to do anything, you’re crazy. That doesn’t affect anybody. It’s getting up into legs.
“I thought that bench crew got that going for us. The starters came back in and continued it, but a little too late.”