NEW YORK — The New York Knicks’ game plan for James Harden was simple: pressure him all night into spots the defense felt comfortable.
Unfortunately, Harden defies the constructs of most opposing game plans. “The Beard” consistently sliced into the teeth of New York’s defense, following-up a 41-point outing at Cleveland with a 30-point barrage against the Knicks on Wednesday.
“He’s a great player,” said Kristaps Porzingis. “He is able to break our defense down and get to the basket early and get fouls. At the same time, we didn’t really stop him. It is about team defense… it is on all of us.”
After a 118-99 loss to a Houston Rockets team that scored 68 points in the first half, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek hoped his team was frustrated with their play on the defensive end.
Frustrated they are.
Hornacek said his team let Harden “do whatever he wanted” as he trounced about New York’s perimeter, dishing out 15 assists for the second game in a row.
“Tonight was frustrating, it definitely was,” said reserve forward Lance Thomas, one of New York’s better perimeter defenders. “For us as a team, for the fans, for everyone who’s watching the game, it should be frustrating. There’s too much competitiveness in this locker room for that to be out there.”
The Knicks’ APB on Ryan Anderson came up empty, as he tormented them with deep, open looks from downtown (16 points on 4-of-9 three-point shooting), and an injury-free Eric Gordon scored 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
By the end of the third quarter, New York gave up 100 points and found itself in a 21-point hole.
“It’s not like we haven’t done defense in practice. Our guys are offensive-minded guys. We’ve gotta be able to do it on both ends,” Hornacek said. “But again, the defense has been talked and preached at practice every time. It sometimes comes down to taking it upon yourself to stop somebody and not look for help.”
New York (1-3) has now given up back-to-back 60-plus-point first halves (64 points given up against Detroit) and eight 30-point quarters through four games, with two additional periods giving up 28 and 29 points.
Through four games, New York has allowed opponents to shoot 41.1 percent from downtown, the third-highest percentage allowed behind Dallas and Washington.
Knicks point guard Derrick Rose said the team doesn’t stand a chance unless it improves its floundering defense.
“If we don’t come out and play defense, we’re gonna keep getting smacked like this,” said Rose, who finished with 16 points on 8-of-18 shooting. “It comes with effort. It comes with everybody being on the same page. We’ve been saying this since the beginning of the year, it’s nothing but defense.
“It takes playing together. It takes battling together to build that chemistry.”
Rose felt the team was not on the same page defensively, especially defending pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations against the Rockets. Carmelo Anthony said he wants his guys to show more effort on the defensive end.
“I think that the effort — even when guys are not on the same page — the effort, the hustling and doing the smaller things can get you over the hump,” said Anthony, who finished with 21 points (8-of-15 shooting) but turned the ball over five times.
“I do honestly believe that we’ll pick it up,” he continued. “I know guys understand that we have to pick it up. We can’t keep saying that it’ll get better. We have to make it better. We gotta do things the right way, we gotta play the right way, we gotta play hard.
When asked if the Knicks are a better defensive team than they’ve shown, Anthony doubled-down firmly.
“Without a doubt. Without a doubt,” he said. “I don’t think what we’ve shown these past two nights is any indication of who we are, who we will be as a team. It’s just a matter of kinda just doing it and putting forth the effort out there.”
“It sucks, but like I said before, I’ve been on teams where we building a culture here,” added Rose. “We’re trying to bring that defensive culture here. We’re trying to make something last like establish something, and it takes time.”
Re-configuring practice: Courtney Lee finished with one of the more impressive Knicks stat lines: 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field.
But Lee felt his team could tinker with its practice habits, specifically practicing against “game-like situations” instead of against the Triangle offense.
“We run the Triangle, we practice against it a lot. I think we need to practice against pick and rolls, practice against other looks and whatnot and get comfortable with that because that’s what other teams are running.”
Lost unicorn: Porzingis played the entire third quarter but sat until the final minutes of the fourth in New York’s loss to Detroit.
Against Houston, the 7-foot-3 scorer mustered up only three points without a made field goal (0-of-4 shooting).
“They were playing pretty tight defense on me,” Porzingis said after the game. “A lot of situations, maybe I wasn’t in the right position or it just didn’t work out and teammates didn’t see me in some positions.
“It happens. Games like that happen where you don’t get touches and it’s one of those games, but I’m gonna watch film, learn from it and come back next game.”
Next Up: Friday @ CHI