LOS ANGELES — After the Knicks’ defense was ripped to shreds, Jeff Hornacek ripped into his players.
Hornacek was disgusted by his team’s performance in a 128-105 loss to the Clippers on Friday night at Staples Center. He questioned his team’s pride and toughness a few times after its 11th loss in 12 games.
“It was terrible,” Hornacek said. “It was a terrible defensive effort. You hope it’s not a case where we’re not making our shots so we’re dropping our heads and don’t play defense. The mentality you have to have is when you’re not making your shots or not scoring, then get a stop. That’s just being tough, that’s kind of having a feel for the game.”
The Knicks (24-39) played well for a half in the opener of a four-game trip. Then they were done in with another third-quarter meltdown, and they never recovered.
If this sounds familiar, it’s exactly what happened the last time they played, on Monday against Golden State. The Knicks led 64-63 at the half en route to a 125-111 loss.
The Knicks led the Clippers 60-57 at the half but were outscored 35-18 in the third quarter and 71-45 after halftime. They didn’t have the length or athleticism to keep up with the Clippers, who embarrassed the Knicks in the fourth quarter by repeatedly beating them down the court for layups and dunks.
That’s been a common theme, particularly since Kristaps Porzingis was lost for the season with a torn ACL. But the Knicks had those issues even with Porzingis.
“It was a layup line in the second half,” Hornacek said. “All easy stuff. It was just a poor effort.”
The Clippers (33-28) are thriving despite injuries to key players Danilo Gallinari and Avery Bradley and being forced to use two-way players from the G League. Los Angeles has won nine of its last 13 and remains in the Western Conference playoff race.
With 19 games left in another lost season, the Knicks — who dropped to 8-25 on the road — appear headed to 50 defeats for the fourth straight season.
“It was embarrassing,” Enes Kanter said. “I think we’re doing a really good job in the first half. The second half, it just seems like, I don’t know why, we’re just relaxing. We cannot try to beat teams with offense. We need to beat teams with defense. Tonight was just embarrassing.”
Kanter led the Knicks with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 and Courtney Lee 15.
Lou Williams scored 21 off the bench for the Clippers and was one of four Clippers with at least 19 points. DeAndre Jordan finished with 19 points and 20 rebounds in 28 minutes. Austin Rivers hit five three-pointers, four of them in the third quarter, and scored 19. Montrezl Harrell shot 8-for-9 and had 19 points in 16 minutes. Former Half Hollow Hills West star Tobias Harris added 15 points.
Jordan scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first 7:41 and had a double-double by halftime. Hornacek said he told the players at halftime not to give up any easy baskets but it apparently fell on deaf ears.
“We made the comment, in the first half [Jordan] had seven buckets, we didn’t foul him once,” Hornacek said. “He’s a 58 percent free-throw shooter. Foul the guy. That’s playing smart, playing tough and having some pride and not let somebody just get easy buckets.”
After the Knicks fell behind by 10 in the second quarter, they raised their energy level and intensity, contested shots and didn’t settle on the offensive end. They outscored the Clippers 22-10 in the final 5:56 of the second quarter to take a 60-57 lead into halftime.
The third quarter, however, was like so many have been for the Knicks. Their opponent lifted their play, became more aggressive on the defensive end and overmatched the Knicks.
The Clippers opened the third quarter by scoring 10 unanswered points to begin an 18-4 run capped by Rivers’ second three-pointer in the charge. He hit four from downtown in the third and scored 14 in the quarter. Fourteen was the Knicks’ deficit after three, 92-78.
“Defensively it’s disappointing,” Hornacek said. “The guys just kind of line it up. You saw Rivers just made two threes and we’re just going to let him line it up and shoot another one. You get all over guys. That’s a pride thing.”
The Knicks scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, a driving tomahawk dunk by Troy Williams that created a buzz at Staples Center and brought the Knicks’ bench to its feet. But they had no reason to cheer after that. The Clippers ran away with the game as the Knicks suffered a loss that looked like so many others this season.
“No defense,” Hornacek said. “We only had one quarter we kept them under 30. We went into halftime saying, ‘You guys played out of a 10, maybe a six in the first half; you’re up by three. If you just play defense in the second half, you win the game.’ Obviously we didn’t.”