Sports

Knicks suddenly on shakier ground after Lakers heartbreaker

LOS ANGELES — Derrick Rose summed up the misery the Knicks were feeling late Tuesday night at Staples Center after they blew a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2013.

“It’s tough, extremely tough,” Rose said after the Knicks’ 101-99 loss.

Rose was one of the goats – allowing the Lakers’ Wesley Matthews to box him out for a put-back that sent the thriller to overtime. Rose was also the defender when Talen Horton-Tucker drilled the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime.

“By the end of the night, tomorrow when you wake up, you’ve got to have amnesia,” Rose said. “But it’s f–king hard right now. I can’t even lie. When you get so emotionally involved in playing hard, you get lost in the game. You want the outcome to be in your favor, and it sucks man, it sucks.”

It was going to be a long flight. The Knicks were to fly home Wednesday from La-La Land after an 11-day, 3-3 Western swing that was so solid, but ended so bitterly. The Knicks technically fell back into sixth place with the Lakers loss.

The magic number to clinch a playoff spot (a top-six seed) remained at 1 with the Knicks back at the Garden on Thursday hosting the Spurs, no easy foe.

In fact, the road to avoiding the play-in tournament suddenly doesn’t look as breezy. The Knicks (38-31) are in a three-way tie for fourth with Atlanta and Miami, but the Hawks win such a tiebreaker as division champs, and the Heat swept the season series from the Knicks.

Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks have been resilient and mentally tough all season, but this was a genuine punch to the mouth at Staples Center. They blew the 10-point fourth-quarter lead and a one-point advantage in the final 20 seconds of overtime to halt history.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Celtics to beat hapless Cavaliers Wednesday night then knock off the woeful Timberwolves. The road-weary Knicks could stumble in a quick turnaround versus the Spurs and get upset by the Hornets.

That would set up a Garden battle for the ages for the playoffs against the shorthanded Celtics on Sunday. If the Knicks crap out and fall into the play-in, they would then be two losses away from ending their season.

Knicks NBA playoffs 2021 Derrick Rose
Knicks guard Derrick Rose dribbles against the Lakers on May 11, 2021.
NBAE via Getty Images

“It’s tough,” Randle said of the Lakers loss. “But we control our own destiny, so get rest, get back home and finish the job.”

Indeed, but they will need streaky RJ Barrett to be Randle’s right-hand man. Barrett has played in every game this season, and he looked both mentally and physically fatigued in Los Angeles with a horrific outing that cost them the game. Barrett’s sloppy inbounds pass in Phoenix was crucial in that loss, too.

Thibodeau probably regrets putting the 20-year-old Barrett onto the floor on the last possession of overtime against the Lakers. All they got out of it was a 3-point prayer from Barrett at the buzzer. He finished 2-of-13 for eight points – 0-of-7 from 3-point land.

The Knicks are also depending massively on Rose, who is not used to these starter’s minutes, even though he’s coming off the bench. Rose played 39 minutes versus the Lakers.

Payton starts the first and second halves, then comes out after seven minutes and doesn’t go back. Payton had back-to-back two-point outings on the trip. Can Rose withstand the toll?

The last three games of the trip, the Knicks were also missing backcourt bench help in Alec Burks (knee contusion) and Immanuel Quickley (sprained ankle).

Because of COVID-19, a sprained ankle and a bruised knee, Burks has missed 11 of 13 games, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll be sharp upon his return.

Quickley is also a rookie who has never played this many games. Quickley was injured late in last week’s blowout loss to the Nuggets, still out on the court when the Knicks were down 31 points in the fourth quarter.

Randle shouldered the blame for the Lakers loss — “Put it on me” — but that was lip service. He was the last person to blame as he outplayed Anthony Davis all night with 31 points (Davis finished with 20).

After the final buzzer, LeBron James, dressed in his tennis finest in teal top and shorts, hugged Randle.

The Knicks need some of that LeBron luck to rub off on the franchise so this fairy-tale season doesn’t crash and burn.

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