The way Tim Hardaway Jr. was shooting the ball, he appeared headed for a 50-point night and the Knicks on their way to a rare victory. But in the last game before the All-Star break the Knicks suffered a monumental and historic breakdown.
The Knicks proved no lead is safe for them. They were up 27 points late in the first half and completely collapsed. They wasted a 37-point game by Hardaway and fell, 118-113, to the Wizards Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
It was the Knicks’ biggest blown lead since 1991-92, when they started tracking that stat. The Knicks (23-36) head into the break on an eight-game losing streak, and having dropped 22 of 28
“It’s embarrassing,” Enes Kanter said. “It’s on all of us.”
The Knicks led 68-41 with 2:56 left in the first half. The Wizards took an 86-83 lead less than 12 minutes later. It was incredible how quick that 30-point swing happened. The Wizards shot 81 percent (17-for-21) in the third quarter. They blitzed the Knicks 39-15, prompting Jeff Hornacek to question his team’s toughness.
“That’s where the tough-mindedness and the defense [come in],” Hornacek said. “They make a couple of baskets and you’re locking in. It’s the loose balls, it’s the rebounds and it’s hard to do. You’ve got to be a little bit of animal. And you can’t go soft. You’ve got to go get it. That’s the stuff we have to try and figure out: Who is going to do it?
The Wizards are without their best player John Wall because of knee surgery. It didn’t matter the way the Knicks defended without their best player and shot blocker Kristaps Porzingis.
Washington (33-24) faced no resistance. The Knicks were outscored 67-41 after halftime with the Wizards connecting on 27 of 40 shots (67.5 percent).
“It’s embarrassing,” Hardaway said. “This is really tough, man, especially going into the break. You really want a game like this, and they were down 27, and we had an opportunity to close that door and really go into this break with a great mindset to come back.”
Hardaway, who came into the game 5-for-44 on three-pointers in his last seven games, made his first five from deep Wednesday. He finished 6-for-9 from behind the arc and one point shy of matching his season and career high.
But Hardaway, like the rest of the Knicks, couldn’t make plays on either end when it mattered.
Hardaway started 12-for-14, but he missed eight of his last 10 shots. He only scored five points in the second half, and none over the last 20:39. Hardaway was 0-for-7 with two turnovers in that time. The Wizards played him differently, making sure he didn’t get good looks.
“Every time I caught the ball, I’d have two guys on me,” Hardaway said. “So it was tough.”
The Knicks, meanwhile, made no adjustments after a 72-point first half, their highest scoring half of the season.
They played the second half as if they believed the game was over already. They shot 16-for-52 (30.8 percent) after halftime.
“We relaxed,” Kanter said after a 24-point, 14-rebound performance. “That was the most terrible thing we did.”
Bradley Beal scored 36 points and Otto Porter Jr. 22 for Washington.
Despite shooting 5-for-24 and missing two dunks in the third quarter, the Knicks were only down 105-104 after Kanter converted a three-point play with 5:13 left. But they gave up back-to-back three-point plays — by Porter Jr. and Beal — and fell behind 111-104 with 4:11 left.
Michael Beasley ended the Knicks’ 2:19 scoring drought with a basket inside that made it 112-106 with 2:54 left. But Beal drove right past the Knicks and scored on a layup 18 seconds later to make it an eight-point game.
Beasley scored on the Knicks’ next two trips to bring the Knicks within 114-110. They had a chance to draw closer, but Beal stole the ball from Hardaway and dunked it in transition with 1:16 to go.
On the other end, Jarrett Jack had his shot blocked by Tomas Satoransky. The Knicks got a stop, but Beasley misfired on a baseline jumper. Beal was fouled with 23 seconds and hit both free throws to make it an eight-point game.
“The first half, teams kind of just play. And then the second half they gear it up,” Hornacek said. “If you can’t gear it up to another level then you’re going to get jumped, and that’s what happened.”