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Plenty of blame to go around for Knicks after late-game lapses in Game 5 loss to 76ers

Time. Score. Situation.

The Knicks were seemingly aware of all three details well before Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey launched an infrared homing missile from 35-feet deep late in regulation Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

With his team’s season on the line, the first-time All-Star decimated his target and forced overtime. The 76ers prevailed 112-106 when the dust finally settled. Now the Knicks, who blew a grand opportunity to close out a playoff series at home for the first time since 1999, must now find a way to win a Game 6 on Thursday in Philadelphia.

“It’s frustrating obviously the way it happened, but we can’t hang our heads,” Jalen Brunson said. “We have to come back stronger, be ready to go and just learn from what we did.”

Wednesday’s film session will be a frustrating one for head coach Tom Thibodeau. While no single play decides the outcome of an NBA game, the Knicks’ mental lapses down the stretch of Tuesday’s gut-wrenching loss cannot be ignored.

The devil is in the details. Better communication here. Smarter execution there. And the Knicks escape victorious — easily — and patiently await the winner of the Bucks-Pacers series.

“Just tough way to lose a ballgame,” Thibodeau said. “So, we had a lead. We’ve got to play tougher with the lead…We’ve got to do better.

Maxey, in a game where Joel Embiid appeared exhausted and unengaged, stepped up, outdueled Brunson and finished with a game-high 46 points — five of which came in overtime.

Four of those points came with 25.6 seconds left, in a six-point game, after Mitchell Robinson fouled a red-hot Maxey behind the arc. Obviously unacceptable in that scenario. Mitchell did not mince words when asked about his blunder postgame.

“I’m just going to take it like a man,” Mitchell said. “I f–ked up. I got to be better next game… I just got to play him straight up. I wasn’t in a ready position to guard or anything like that. I f–ked up.”

A 96-94 game with 15.3 seconds left, two made Josh Hart free throws likely would have put the game away. He missed the first, but fortunately for the Knicks, made the second. But that left the window wide-open for Philadelphia.

And all Maxey needed was a sliver of daylight.

“I missed a free throw with less than 10 seconds left, and if I made both, we win,” Hart said. “So, you know what the situation is, and I have to take that one on the chin and not let it happen again.”

As for Maxey’s game-tying trey at the end of regulation, the Knicks knew they had a chance to foul him before the shot went up but did not take advantage of it — and they were burned accordingly.

“Obviously split-second decision when we should’ve been talking about it during the free throws,” said Miles McBride. “I think when [Maxey] coming at you full speed, he hit a close-to-halfcourt shot, it’s not much you can do. You don’t want to take a chance where he might go into a shooting motion. Probably should’ve been up on him a little bit more. But you just learn from it.”

These things happen fast in the NBA. Executing is easier said than done. But with everything at stake Tuesday night, Brunson cited a lack of proper communication as the reason for the Knicks’ downfall. And that is not the type of thing you want to hear from the best player on a team expected to contend for a championship.

They know it, too.

“I think we just have to be on the same page, all five of us,” Brunson said. “I think some of us thought we were going to foul, and we weren’t, but that’s on me. I have to be able to communicate things like that on the court. So yeah, I have to do a better job.”


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