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MSG Dispatches: The Knicks are winning, but still bothered by blown third quarter leads

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Coughing up third quarter leads has become a trend for the Knicks in recent games.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New York Knicks Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

For a player whose team had just pulled out its eighth win in 11 games, the best in the Eastern Conference during that stretch, Knicks guard Derrick Rose remained critical of his team’s performance in New York’s 106-98 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.

“We’re still so far away from that,” said Rose when asked if his team is playing how he expected. “We’re improving, yes, but like I said, with the goals that we have, we’re far away from that.”

The Knicks jumped out to an early 21-point lead in the first half, but a barrage of Kings third-quarter threes chopped a mammoth deficit to just five. Blowing leads has been a trend for New York of late. The Knicks allowed Minnesota to claw back from a double-digit second-half deficit to tie the game at 100 before pulling out with a 118-114 win on Friday. New York gave away a similar lead when they played the T’Wolves two nights before.

But Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said he doesn’t want his players to obsess over avoiding giving away leads.

“I think we’ve gotta probably quit harping on the fact that we’ve got these leads an that we want to get that killer instinct,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “We’ll just ignore it. Maybe it gets in their heads and then they start thinking about it, so my attitude from here is just to kind of ignore that.”

Added Brandon Jennings: “It’s been happening lately. I feel like our third quarters have to be better if we want to be a great team. This is a game I felt we should have closed out early with the lead that we had.”

This time, New York was able to hold Sacramento off. Rose and Carmelo Anthony each scored 20 points, and Brandon Jennings poured on 19 points from the bench as the Knicks advanced to an 11-9 record on the season.

The game’s highlight-reel moment came with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Kyle O’Quinn swatted DeMarcus Cousins’ layup before leading a coast-to-coast, one-man fast break that he finished with a one-handed dunk.

“I never been in that situation before,” said O’Quinn, who finished with four points and nine rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. “I just didn’t want it to be a turnover. And then when I saw the lane open up, I said I know I can dunk it, so I just tried to put it down. Probably not an ideal play, but it worked.”

Rose insisted learning not to blow big leads “comes with experience,” citing the team’s 10 new players and new head coach. But he doesn’t want the Knicks to become complacent.

“We can’t be content with where we’re at,” he said. “We’re just trying to get better every game. Still have goals that we’re trying to achieve. Still trying to be the best team that we can become. Once again, it takes time.”

Tip-ins

Lance Thomas is healthy: The Knicks’ forward endured a two bouts with plantar fasciitis to start the season along with an ankle injury. His ailments have kept him out of 11 games.

“It’s like playing with glass in both your heels,” Thomas said of playing with plantar.

He scored nine points on two-for-four shooting from downtown in 17 minutes on the floor. O’Quinn is among the players glad to see his teammate back on the floor.

“It’s always good to see Lance on the court. He provides a lot of energy, does a lot of little things. It’s always good seeing someone you know that had an injury get back on the court.”

A two-headed monster: Jennings and Rose combined for 39 points on Sunday and spent much of their minutes playing side-by-side. Rose said being able to play alongside Jennings in the back court makes it tough on defenses.

“Me and Brandon, we’re good off the ball too,” he said. “We get in the right spots, brandon is a knock-down shooter and he’s good at creating. I’m good at creating, and we’re just trying to make plays for other guys on the floor.

“We have [Porzingis] on the floor sometimes with us and Melo at the same time. And guys don’t want to leave those guys whenever we drive by them, so it’s our job to attack and make the decision. It’s really like pick your poison.”

Joakim Noah is progressing. Noah played 25 minutes, but the Knicks were outscored by four points during those minutes. He had two points, five rebounds and a steal. He said he is working to get back from the minor injuries that have plagued him since training camp.

“I feel better, but I still have a lot of work to do. I just can’t get frustrated with the process,” he said. “Our teams definitely playing a lot better basketball right now. So just stay focused on the positive and keep focusing on my improvement.

“I’ve had a lot of knick-knacks from the start of this. So, it is what it is. My hamstrings, ankles, I got sick. So, I’m just trying to get some consistency right now. But it’s gonna come,” adding he’s 100 percent optimistic he’ll return to full health.

Noah and DeMarcus Cousins shared a few laughs in the Knicks’ 106–98 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Until Cousins received a technical foul for shoving Noah at the 7:35 mark in the fourth quarter.

“Boogie’s tough. Boogie’s tough. He acts like he’s your friend one minute, then one minute he gets a tech,” Noah said of Cousins with a laugh. “This guy’s an emotional roller-coaster, man. He’s a horse down there. He’s one of the best at our position.”

Next 5: Dec. 6 @ MIA, Dec. 7 vs. CLE, Dec. 9 @ SAC, Dec. 11 @ LAL, Dec. 13 @ PHX