Entering this season, the fear for the Knicks was their point-guard play. The fear was realized on Christmas.
Starting point guard Jarrett Jack went scoreless, going 0-for-5, and committed an ill-advised flagrant foul on Joel Embiid in the third quarter with the score tied at 52. Rookie Frank Ntilikina looked lost on defense for one of the few times and failed to run the offense. He also shot poorly — going 2-of-8 overall and 0-of-2 from 3-point land — in the Knicks’ 105-98 loss to the Sixers.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek didn’t single out Ntilikina, but admitted Sixers backup point guard T.J. McConnell — who burned the Knicks with a buzzer-beating, game-winner last season — was the Sixers’ Christmas hero. McConnell finished with 15 points, four assists and five rebounds.
“McConnell gave them a big lift,’’ Hornacek said. “He was active defensively. He was disruptive and got hands on some passes, made shots, drove to the basket. One time we chased him over the top — which we weren’t supposed to do — and he made one at the shot clock. He was a huge key.’’
This was Ntilikina’s first Christmas game and one he’d like to forget.
“I think it was our inability to run plays with defensive pressure,’’ Ntilikina said. “They did a good job of pressuring us and bringing us out of our plays. We have to go back to practice and learn how to run plays at the end of the game. They had good plays for their shooters and we didn’t go a good job of stopping them.
Jack had seven assists, but couldn’t buy a shot and then got out of control on Embiid. As Embiid drove in the lane, Jack threw his body at him like a cornerback. Embiid called it “dirty”; Jack wasn’t in the locker room afterward to address reporters.
Coincidentally, Jack wore a “24’’ Redskins jersey to the game — the number of chippy cornerback Josh Norman.
The Sixers passed on Kristaps Porzingis with the third pick in 2015 and took Jahlil Okafor, the disappointing center they recently dealt to the Nets. Asked if he ever had a what-if thought, the normally loquacious Sixers coach Brett Brown started shaking his head, rolling his eyes and said, “Next question.’’
Hornacek was reminded of his place in Sixers history, getting traded there for Charles Barkley — a deal he equated to the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster.
“When that happened I wasn’t happy about being traded [but] I said that’s great for both teams in terms of they got Barkley,’’ Hornacek said. “[Phoenix] was a 55-56-win team prior to getting Barkley. In Philadelphia, we were in a rebuilding mode. We had two young players that went with me. Hopefully trades happen that benefit both teams. Maybe we look at the trade for Carmelo. Oklahoma City is now playing better. They’re getting together with their three stars. And with Enes [Kanter] and Doug [McDermott] here, it’s helped us. That’s how trades should be.’’