The Knicks’ Derek Fisher is learning how to be an NBA head coach and sometimes it’s a painful process.
Case in point: Wednesday’s loss in the Garden to the lowly Orlando Magic.
The Knicks had one last chance to stop their losing streak at five games when they had the ball with 3.5 seconds left, trailing by two.
Here’s where Fisher learned his first major lesson as a first-time head coach: Get the ball to your No. 1 player and let him try to win the game.
But instead of ordering his players to find Carmelo Anthony, come hell or high water, Fisher drew up a play with "multiple options,"’ and the ball wound up in the hands of the wrong person, J.R. Smith, whose last-ditch three-pointer had no chance.
After the 97-95 loss, Fisher should have come clean and issued a "my bad."’ He should have kicked himself in front of the media for not giving Anthony a chance to do what he’s paid $124 million to do.
With the game on the line, give ‘Melo the ball.
But Fisher didn’t throw himself under the team bus. God forbid he admits to a mistake. But if he did, he’d start to ingratiate himself with New Yorkers and Knicks fans. Remember, he’s not Mark Jackson. He’s an outsider who never played in New York and a guy who has never done any kind of coaching, at all, before being handed one of the plum jobs in all of sports by Phil Jackson.
Fisher should have told reporters, “It’s on me, fellas. I should have erased that play I drew up on the board and said, “Guys, let’s get ‘Melo free and get him the ball.’’
I mean, how hard is it?
Instead, this is what Fisher ended up saying about the game’s pivotal play: “Once the ball came into J.R., he trusted himself and he made some shots tonight and he took the shot. We live with that. You don’t draw it up for a three-point shot like that, but I have no problem with a guy believing in himself that he can help his team.’’
Knicks fans, there’s your rookie mistake.
That was the wrong message to send and all Fisher needed to do to know that was to listen to his disconsolate star afterward. Smith ended up heaving a three-pointer that hit only glass, which is basically exactly how Anthony saw it when reporters told him that Smith said, “We went with the best shot, the right shot.’’
Anthony’s response? “I don’t know, I got to look at it. I don’t know. We ran the play. He had an open shot or thought he had an open shot. I don’t think I’m going to get it every time.’’
He doesn’t make ‘em all, no one does. But because he’s got the best track record on the team for making big shots at the end of games, Anthony should have gotten the ball when Pabo Prigioni threw the in-bounds pass. For one thing, he had a rookie guarding him in the Magic’s Aaron Gordon, and it’s not a stretch to think that had Gordon or any other Magic player so much had breathed on him, he might have drawn a foul call and advanced to the line.
But once it went to Smith, everyone in the Garden knew how it would end.
There wasn’t enough time to find Anthony and have him get off a shot, not with the final seconds ticking off. As J.R later admitted, “If I forced it into him, what kind of shot will he really have -- a turnaround, fadeaway? It’s not the best shot we’d want. I don’t think it’s enough time for him to set his feet and do what he wanted to do.’’
Plus, let’s remember, when it comes to shooting, J.R. has never been shy. He sees himself as Mr. Clutch and wants to be the hero.
Except that’s Anthony’s role.
“Of course I want it,’’ said Anthony, who could be seen calling for the ball as the clock wound down. “If he could have got it to me is a different question.’’
The only question is why Fisher didn’t trust his star with the game on the line.
Like they say, it’s a learning process over at the Garden -- and not only for the players.
Longtime New York columnist Mitch Lawrence continues to write about pro basketball, as he’s done for the last 21 years. His columns for NBCNewYork.com on the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and the NBA, along with other major sports, will appear twice weekly. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch _ Lawrence.