Tim Hardaway Jr. stormed off the court with his head down, not making eye contact with anyone as he headed to the locker room.
He also left without talking to the media after his third straight subpar game — and second in a row in which he could have changed the outcome in the closing seconds.
Those who did stick around to talk after the Knicks’ 99-96 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the team with the NBA’s worst record, expressed frustration, anger and embarrassment.
Hardaway probably felt all of those things after taking an ill-advised shot with 1:05 left, committing a turnover with 6.3 seconds to go and misfiring on a potential tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
He had nine points and shot 3-for-9, dropping him to 5-for-33 in his last three games. He shot 1-for-14 and missed a three-pointer at the buzzer in a two-point loss Friday in Milwaukee.
The Hawks (16-37, 5-21 on the road) scored the final seven points in the last 47 seconds. Kent Bazemore’s three-pointer with 6.7 seconds left proved to be the game-winner. “That’s probably the toughest of the year for us,” Jeff Hornacek said.
“I would say the most embarrassing game that we lost,” Courtney Lee said.
“I can’t even process that we lost,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “I can’t believe it. It was our game. It was 100 percent our game. Stuff happened quick, and boom, it was over. We don’t know how to win games yet.”
So much happened in the final 3:49, including a bizarre sequence that led to a potential three-point play being taken away from the Knicks (23-31).
To their credit, they didn’t blame the defeat on the officials for losing track of the situation. They blamed it on themselves for the poor execution and decision-making that led to Atlanta’s game-ending 12-3 run. The Knicks also missed four free throws in the last 6:17.
Hardaway was called for a questionable foul as Bazemore (19 points) shot a three-pointer with 3:49 left and the Knicks up three. He missed the first two free throws, and the Knicks rebounded and ran a play. Hardaway curled around Kyle O’Quinn’s screen, cut down the lane, took a bounce pass from Porzingis, dunked and was fouled with 3:32 left.
Hardaway was about to go to the line when someone alerted the officials that only two free throws had been taken by Bazemore. Fewer than 24 seconds had passed, so according to league rules, Hardaway’s basket was erased and Bazemore was awarded his third free throw. He sank it to make it 89-87.
“Since it was under 24, we nullify all play and we go back to the point of interruption,” referee Pat Fraher told a pool reporter.
Said Porzingis, “I’ve never seen anything like that. Even with all that, it was our game.”
The Knicks went ahead 93-87 on back-to-back baskets by Porzingis and O’Quinn, and went up by five with 1:44 left. Then the collapse took place.
They allowed an offensive rebound by Dewayne Dedmon, who hit two free throws. Then Porzingis was fouled with 1:07 left. He made the first to put the Knicks up 96-92 but missed the second. Hardaway got the offensive rebound, but instead of taking time off the clock, he immediately shot a fadeaway off one leg and missed it. Hornacek’s body language was nothing but incredulous disgust.
“We all know it wasn’t a good shot, and he knows it,” said Porzingis (22 points), who missed three free throws in the fourth quarter. “We all make mistakes. Shot the ball too early, should have kept the ball and let the time run out and make a play there.”
Dedmon then got an offensive rebound and fed Mike Muscala for a three-pointer that brought the Hawks within 96-95 with 47 seconds left.
The Knicks were scrambling and unsettled on their next possession, and O’Quinn ended up backing in his man and shooting a 15-foot fadeaway that missed with 26.8 seconds to go. Hornacek said he should have called a timeout from the bench.
After O’Quinn’s miss, the Hawks moved the ball and found Bazemore for a wide-open three-pointer from in front of the Atlanta bench for a 98-96 lead.
Out of a timeout, Hardaway inbounded the ball to Trey Burke. He gave it right back to Hardaway, whose foot was out of bounds. Dedmon hit a free throw with 3.5 seconds left, setting up Hardaway’s final miss.
Said Lee, “You can’t lose a game like that, especially on your home court and especially with how we just played in Milwaukee and were trying to go forward on that. We just took a big step backwards.”