TODAY'S PAPER
76° Good Afternoon
76° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Knicks need to learn how to finish the job

The Knicks have exceeded expectations this season, but winning close games remains a work in progress.

Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks reacts in the

Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks reacts in the first half against the Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks are going to have to figure this thing out.

If they are going to be the team they think they can be, they are going to have to learn how to win close games. They are going to have to figure out how not to lose over and over to a team like the Chicago Bulls, a beatable team with an inferior record. They are going to have to learn that late-game heroics and making it to double-overtime mean absolutely nothing in the win-loss column.

For the third time this season, the Knicks lost to the Bulls. And this time was by far the most painful as mistakes and missed shots down the stretch led to the 122-119 double-overtime loss.

It marked the sixth time in the last 10 games that the Knicks have been in a game decided by four or fewer points. The Knicks (19-22) are 2-4 in those six games.

“I know in today’s games leads come and go, but against a team you’re equal to when you get a lead at home, that’s when you have to put the hammer down,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said.

The Knicks led by 11 points early in the game, but had to scramble in the fourth quarter to force the overtime. It was a thrilling game with a lot of heroics and a few painful mistakes.

No single performance personified this more than that of Jarrett Jack, who had his first triple-double in six years when he finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Jack came up with some seemingly impossible shots, including one late in the first overtime when he scored after inbounding the ball off a defender’s back.

It was his errant pass with 19 seconds left and a two-point deficit that really cost the Knicks. Jack also missed a 26-footer that would have tied it with two seconds left in the second overtime.

“I thought we made shots, I thought we executed, I just think there are moments that we get a bit lax,” Jack said. “I’m not saying they did that for the entire 48 minutes, because I thought we battled as well. We’re also a team between the lines that we play hard, but I think there are moments where we take a step back in that area.

“We have to do that, regardless if we’re winning or we’re down, we’ve got to understand there has to be a sense of urgency for us every possession. I’m not looking at anybody, I’m looking at myself first and everybody else, you know what I’m saying? . . . Everybody has to step it up one more notch, that’s what it’s going to take to get to where we want to go.”

The Knicks are on pace to win 38 games and by almost all accounts are better than anyone expected them to be this season. The bar, after three-plus years under Phil Jackson, was incredibly low. Hornacek believes his team is showing improvement.

“I think they’re probably doing better than anticipated,” Hornacek said when asked for his midyear assessment before Wednesday night’s game. “The guys have great confidence in themselves. They believe they can win every game, which is a huge start.”

There’s a big difference, however, between believing it and doing it. Especially when you are in the second overtime against a team that it seems you just can’t beat.

Said Kristaps Porzingis, who totaled 10 points in the two overtimes: “It’s a bad feeling. We weren’t able to finish the game. We had many opportunities. We forced things, didn’t take the right shot, turned the ball over or missed shots. It’s all of those things.”

New York Sports