CHICAGO — The Knicks dropped the ball on a chance to celebrate New Year’s Day with a victory.
Facing the undermanned Bulls, they started the game badly and ended it worse, as almost nothing dropped for them.
The Knicks shot 2-for-19 and were outscored 31-8 in the fourth quarter Friday night as they opened 2016 with a disheartening 108-81 loss at the United Center. The eight fourth-quarter points were the fewest in a fourth quarter in franchise history.
“They had a hell of a fourth quarter and just kicked our [butt] in the end,” Kristaps Porzingis said.
The Knicks missed their first 10 shots of the night, fought to erase a 17-point deficit and briefly took the lead in the third quarter. Then they fell apart.
After Porzingis hit a short hook with 5:20 left in the third quarter to give the Knicks a 67-65 lead, they were outscored 43-14 the rest of the way. The Knicks shot 4-for-26 and committed seven turnovers in the last 17:20.
“We don’t want to be a team that when it starts to rain a little bit that we give in,” Derek Fisher said. “I thought we gave in a little bit in the fourth quarter and let a quarter get away from us.”
Carmelo Anthony’s 20 points led the Knicks (15-19). Jose Calderon had 18 and Porzingis added nine points and nine rebounds.
Jimmy Butler scored 23 points, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic each added 17 and rookie Bobby Portis had 16 off the bench for the Bulls, who were without Derrick Rose (right hamstring tendinitis) and Joakim Noah (left shoulder sprain).
The Bulls (19-12) shot 10-for-16 from three-point range. Doug McDermott was 3-for-3 from outside the arc in the fourth and bested the Knicks by himself with 11 in the final quarter.
“We just didn’t have it,” Anthony said. “Overall as a team, we didn’t have it.”
This was the Knicks’ first game since Cleanthony Early was robbed and shot in the right knee in Queens early Wednesday morning after a late night out at a strip club. They were shaken Wednesday but it’s been business as usual since, especially after they learned that Early will be OK. They didn’t blame the bad start on a lack of focus stemming from what happened to their teammate.
Tip-off was 7:10 p.m. locally, but the Knicks didn’t show up until much later. They trailed 11-0 when they finally scored 3:55 into the game, and they fell behind 23-6 late in the first quarter.
The Knicks didn’t play with the same effort, intensity or urgency as Chicago did at the start. They were steps slow defensively and out of sync and sloppy offensively in falling behind 34-18 after a quarter. “Chicago was ready to play right from the start and I don’t think our guys were ready to play,” Fisher said.
But Calderon led the Knicks back. After Gasol fed Butler for an alley-oop dunk to make it 55-38 with 3:24 to go in the first half, Calderon sparked a 29-10 run. He had 12 points and two assists in the burst as the Knicks took their first and only lead — which lasted a mere 72 seconds.
“His mindset and his aggression and his approach to the game really was the key to us getting back in the game,” Fisher said. “He showed a lot of character, a lot of integrity, which we did not show in the fourth quarter. We needed more Joses out there tonight. We didn’t have enough of them.”