PHILADELPHIA — Derrick Rose was present and accounted for and showed up for the Knicks in the fourth quarter. But the Knicks’ defense and ability to hold a big lead went AWOL down the stretch.
The Knicks led by 17 in the first half, 13 in the fourth quarter, and were up 10 with 2:29 left and they fell to the lowly 76ers at the buzzer.
T.J. McConnell’s turnaround baseline jumper over Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony as time expired capped a 15-4 game-ending run for the 76ers and handed the Knicks a crushing 98-97 defeat Wednesday night.
It was the Knicks’ second last-second defeat in a week, and dropped them to a disappointing 17-22 overall. With nine losses in 10 games, and 12 in 15, the Knicks’ frustration is at an all-time high.
“This is embarrassing,” Courtney Lee said. “The way we keep losing games there’s no excuses. It’s us. This [expletive] is definitely embarrassing.”
Anthony led the Knicks with 28 points but he was scoreless in the fourth. Rose finished with 25 points, including eight in the last 5:07 of the fourth. Porzingis had just seven points and shot an air-ball on a three-pointer with about seven seconds left that would have clinched the game.
Joel Embiid finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds for the 76ers (11-25).
Rose missed Monday’s loss to the Pelicans after flying home to Chicago for “a family issue.” He never told the Knicks and didn’t respond to calls and texts leaving executives, coaches and players wondering where he was.
The Knicks fined Rose “a pretty hefty amount,” according to Jeff Hornacek. But they didn’t suspend him for taking off without contacting the team. Rose said he felt much better and he looked it, as he tried to will the Knicks to the win.
“I felt good,” Rose said. “I missed one day, only one game. I work too hard. I was just trying to come back and just figure it out knowing we know how to play and not think about anything.”
The Knicks will try to erase the stink of this loss when Rose’s old team, the Bulls, visit Chicago. But this one definitely hurt.
“We came up short,” Anthony said. “So it should be unacceptable to all of us.
Rose converted a wing jumper with 1:24 left to give the Knicks a 95-89 lead. The 76ers cut it to 95-94 after a Embiid banked in a three-pointer and then scored inside. But Rose answered again, driving and scoring on a reverse layup to make it 97-94 with 34.5 seconds left.
Gerald Henderson was fouled going to the basket and made both free throws with 27.8 seconds to go to make it a one-point game again.
Out of a timeout, Rose penetrated, passed it to Brandon Jennings, who found Porzingis in the corner. But his corner three-point shot was way short.
Henderson chased down the rebound and the 76ers moved the ball up the court and worked it to McConnell. The point guard spun around on Anthony and buried the shot and the Knicks.
“That was a tough shot,” Porzingis said. “That was like a turnaround, step-back jump shot. He was able to knock it down. I was right there I was really close and he knocked it down. Seeing that the shot went in on time it was heartbreaking for sure.”
Porzingis said he got a good look, and was kicking himself for not converting it.
Hornacek second-guessed himself for putting Porzingis in that spot because he had been on the bench the last 6:22. Porzingis re-entered the game with 27.8 seconds left and the Knicks needing a score and a stop.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Hornacek said. “If [Porzingis’] shot hits the rim and bounces up in the air with three seconds to go they probably would’ve had to call a timeout, but the way it bounced around and kicked right out the guys were able to just go with it . . . Maybe I put KP in a bad position.”
Earlier in the fourth, after the 76ers trimmed the Knicks’ 13-point lead to 84-79, Rose hit a step-back jumper with 5:08 left to stop an 8-0 run. The Knicks went up 89-79 on Jennings’ three-pointer on the next possession.
Later, the 76ers cut it to six, Rose hit another step-back jumper to put the Knicks up 91-83 with 3:20 to go. Moments later, Rose fed Noah to give the Knicks a 93-83 lead. But the Knicks couldn’t hold it.
“We got to change our mentality,” Lee said. “It should be defense first. They did whatever they wanted to do.”