The Knicks have a new coach but still lost in the same old painful way.
The night after firing Derek Fisher, the Knicks dropped their sixth straight game, 111-108, to the Wizards at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks have lost 10 of their last 11, including five in a row at home.
“It was a tough night for us,” Kurt Rambis said. “We’ve got to continue to get better defensively.”
The opener of the Rambis era was at times as hard to watch as some of the worst losses of Fisher’s final month. After a terrible first half, the Knicks dug themselves out of a double-digit hole but came up short at the end when Langston Galloway missed a wide-open three-point try from the right wing at the buzzer.
Galloway hit a three eight seconds earlier to pull the Knicks within a point, 107-106, but John Wall made four free throws in the final 6.6 seconds to hang on to the win. Wall was a speedy force who gave the Knicks trouble all night, producing 28 points and 17 assists. His backcourt partner Bradley Beal scored 26.
The Knicks trailed 106-96 with 1:51 left but rallied, aided by Beal’s three missed free throws in the final 39 seconds.
Carmelo Anthony, who told reporters before the game that he had been shocked by Fisher’s firing, led the Knicks with 33 points and 13 rebounds. Kristaps Porzingis scored 20 points and blocked three shots. The Knicks were their own worst enemies, committing eight of their 15 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Before the free fall that led to Fisher’s firing, the Knicks were 22-22 on Jan. 20 and just a half- game out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Three awful weeks later, the Knicks (23-32) have plummeted to five games out of the final playoff spot as they head into the All-Star break.
The Knicks trailed by 16 late in the first quarter. Thanks to Porzingis, who had 14 of his 16 points in the third quarter, the Knicks were able to tie it at 83 on Derek Williams’ jump shot at the end of the third.
“I think this game was very similar to the last game we had,” Porzingis said. “Starting slow. It’s us. We need to start games better.”
It had been more than 24 hours since the Knicks announced Fisher’s firing, so the pregame mood inside the locker room was more solemn than shocked. Almost every player said they were as much to blame as their former coach.
“I think it’s all of us. It wasn’t just him,” Williams said, adding that Fisher was 50 percent of the reason he decided to come to the Knicks. “It’s the bad thing about this business. We were 1-9. Something had to change.”
In his introductory news conference, Rambis said he has been around the league too long “to have that hope” that he could hang on to the job next season. Before his first game as interim coach, however, he made it clear that being a head coach again has long been his goal and he is thrilled to be here. He was 56-145 with the Lakers (1999) and Timberwolves (2009-11) in two head-coaching stints.
“This is a real unique situation,’’ Rambis said. “This is the team that drafted me when I came out of college. So to get back to this environment, this basketball culture and coaching in this arena, from a basketball perspective, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The Knicks hope it can get better than Tuesday night.