Had they known it, the New York Knicks might have -- emphasis on the word might -- had a chance to win this one at the buzzer.
Except they didn't know it.
With Anthony left wide open outside the 3-point line and calling for the ball as Jeffries prepared to inbound it, Jeffries ignored him and went for a lob pass to Landry Fields near the basket. Fields barely got a fingertip on the ball, the horn sounded, and the Knicks went down to a 119-117 defeat against the Indiana Pacers that stretched their losing streak to three games.
"I definitely would have tried, I definitely wanted to try. As the referee was holding the ball I was yelling at him to let him know how far my [defender] is back in the paint, but it's over with," said Anthony, who gave an earful to Jeffries as the two walked off the court, but admitted he was oblivious to the intricacies of the Tucker Rule.
For those unfamiliar with the rule, it basically says this: On an inbounds play with 0.1 or 0.2 seconds remaining, a player cannot catch and shoot the ball off an inbounds play.
With 0.3 seconds left he can, but it has to happen in one fluid motion.
The rule stems from a piece of Knicks lore from Jan. 15, 1990, when Tucker caught an inbounds pass with 0.1 seconds remaining, turned and nailed a 3-pointer that gave the Knicks a victory over Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls on a Martin Luther King Day matinee.
Following that game, the NBA came to the determination that it is physically impossible to catch and shoot a ball with one-tenth or two-tenths of a second left, but with 0.3 remaining it can be accomplished. (Earlier this season against the Boston Celtics, Amare Stoudemire hit a 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 0.4 seconds left, but he clearly caught the ball, held it as he squared up and then released it -- and the referees rightfully waved it off.)
"Three-tenths of a second, all you can do is throw it to the hole and try to get somebody to tip it in. You can't catch and shoot, so we tried to do [a lob]," said coach Mike D'Antoni, who later acknowledged knowing that a catch and shoot is allowed with 0.3 seconds left, but is almost impossible to pull off.
What also seems impossible for the Knicks to pull off is getting a key defensive stop at a crucial moment, and that is what doomed them in this one after they fought back from a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter and made this one a nail-biter for the final nine minutes.
Indiana was able to score on eight of its final nine possessions, matching the heroics on the other end that Toney Douglas, Stoudemire and Anthony kept providing on New York's end.
It was Anthony who knotted the game with 7.8 seconds left by driving past Granger along the baseline on an isolation play for a layup that tied the game at 117. The Knicks could have been forced to go for a 3-pointer at that point, but Pacers rookie Paul George missed the second of two free throws with 13 seconds left to leave Indiana ahead by just two.
After Anthony's bucket, Granger got the ball isolated against Williams at the top of the key, made a move to his right and nailed a step-back jumper as Jeffries came over as the help defender.
"I tried to jump on his right hand, but he gave me a move and I've got to respect his drive left or right, because he's an All-Star. He made a good shot, but if I knew that side was clear, I would have forced him left," Williams said. "It feels bad. Everybody knows we got to get it going, I feel like we all need to take a good look in the mirror and redefine ourselves and take more pride in defense. We've got to guard better, and we've got to take pride."
Said D'Antoni of the team's defense: "That's going to be our Achilles heel -- that's what we have to get better at."
And so the Knicks now bring a 6-6 record since the Anthony trade and a three-game losing streak into MSG on Thursday night when they face the Memphis Grizzlies to begin a grueling stretch of four games in five nights. And their defense -- or lack thereof -- is becoming such an issue that Charles Barkley and David Letterman joked about it together Wednesday on The Late Show.
The euphoria that accompanied the Anthony trade has clearly subsided, and the Knicks are now looking lost on both ends of the court for prolonged stretches. D'Antoni even used the phrase "We panicked" to describe the way the Knicks let the Pacers jump on them in the third quarter to open that 15-point lead.
There are 16 games remaining in the regular season, so there is still time to achieve some semblance of cohesiveness before the playoffs begin.
Still, if the Knicks don't start playing some defense, and if they aren't better acquainted with the rules of the NBA regarding late-game situations, this is a team that isn't getting out of the first round -- something Tucker's 1989-90 Knicks (coached by Stu Jackson and led by Maurice Cheeks) managed to do by upsetting the Celtics in five games, winning the clincher on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden.
That's just another piece of Knicks history that this squad should familiarize themselves with and try to emulate. Otherwise the summer could begin before May 1 arrives.