ATLANTA -- The method may change a little each time, but it’s gotten to where the Knicks are feeling like they’re stuck on Groundhog Day given the frequency with which they’re blowing leads.
Saturday in Atlanta, a 17-point third quarter lead vanished quickly in a 107-98 loss. This one turned in a few blinks of the eye, and with six straight 3-pointers by the Hawks over the end of the quarter third and beginning of the fourth.
That was part of a 20-2 run where Atlanta scored on seven straight possessions. The first six -- two coming in the last 1:04 of the third quarter -- were long balls. Atlanta scored just 39 points in the first half, and then matched that in a 39-25 fourth quarter.
The Hawks made 16-of-31 treys, and reserve forward Mike Scott was 6-for-7 while scoring a career-high 30 points.
Atlanta frequently set itself up for the long shots by driving the ball into the paint and kicking it back out. Point guard Jeff Teague beat the Knicks frequently off the dribble, and made a career-high 13 free throws on the way to scoring 28 points.
“We’re allowing way too much penetration. We’re not stopping the problem where it starts,” said center Tyson Chandler, who had 10 points and a season-high 23 rebounds. “It seems like night in, night out, we have leads and down the stretch we can’t close games.
“Whenever you give up 39 points in a fourth quarter, it’s going to be tough to win.”
The Knicks closed the second quarter with a 29-6 burst for a 52-39 lead, and expanded that a couple times in the third to 17 points.
Williams hit another 3 with five seconds left to cut New York’s lead to 73-68.
Atlanta started the fourth quarter with 3-pointers by Scott, Williams, Williams again and Scott before Teague added a pair of free throws.
That 20-2 run took 3:42.
The problem started when the Knicks couldn’t keep the Hawks out of the paint -- even though Atlanta was down to fourth-string center Elton Brand (one point) and All-Star power forward Paul Millsap missed the game with a right knee contusion.
“It wasn’t so much the [Hawks’ ball] rotations. It came from the top, and just penetration,” said New York head coach Mike Woodson. “I think [guards] Raymond and Pablo [Prigioni] are capable of doing that.
“Losing games like this after you’ve had a double-digit lead, guys kind of lose confidence in what they’re trying to do.”
After allowing just 39 points in the first half, the Knicks surrendered 68 more. Atlanta made 10 of 15 3-pointers in the second half, 6-of-9 in the final quarter. Much of the Hawks’ run came with Carmelo Anthony (35 points) on the bench.
“It was like we ran out of juice, and forgot how we got the lead,” Woodson said. “Defensively, it all came tumbling down ... [Anthony’s] got to rest. We played a double-overtime [Friday] night and he played [50:19]. A lot of the guys played a lot of minutes. That could have been a factor, too, coming down the stretch.”
After the Knicks wrapped up a 1-3 road trip, frustration was easy to find.
“Yeah, it’s the same thing, different day,” Anthony said after shooting 13-for-25. “It’s starting to get tough to handle. It’s testing us, it’s testing me -- the fact that we’re losing games the same way over and over.”