Knicks lost because of Kevin Durant, not the referees

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Tom Thibodeau was practically quivering in his press conference chair, trying like hell to contain his emotions. More than once he said he wanted to watch the film of Nets 112, Knicks 110, but really, more than anything, Thibodeau wanted to grab someone by the shoulders and shake some sense into him.

Preferably someone wearing a whistle around his neck.

But in the end, the referees did not lose this wild and crazy game for the Knicks. Kevin Durant lost it for them. Durant is one of the greatest players of all time, and he is going to get more calls than Julius Randle, who is not one of the greatest players of all time.

That’s the way sports works. That’s the way the NBA works. A lifer like Thibodeau knows that better than most.

And yet when he stepped inside the Barclays Center interview room, a night after he rattled the entire league by banishing Kemba Walker, Thibodeau was angrier at the refs than Randle had been for much of the game. Mitchell Robinson had fouled James Johnson with 2.2 seconds left and the score tied, and given the nature of Robinson’s swipe, it was a call that had to be made.

Thibodeau was asked about that play. “I don’t know,” he said.

He was asked about his revamped starting five, and he mentioned that RJ Barrett’s illness and early exit changed the dynamic, but quickly pivoted to the fact that Brooklyn took 25 foul shots to the Knicks’ 12. “They had a big discrepancy in free throws, I can tell you that,” Thibodeau growled. “Julius is driving the ball, and he gets two free throws?

Kevin Durant gets fouled by Mitchell Robinson during the Nets' 112-110 win over the Knicks.
Kevin Durant gets fouled by Mitchell Robinson during the Nets’ 112-110 win over the Knicks.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“And I don’t really care how the game is called, I really don’t. You can call it tight. You can call it loose. But it’s gotta be the same.”

Thibs was rolling now. His eyeballs were bulging and his veins were popping, and thank heavens the Minutes Police weren’t around to send him completely over the edge.

“I wanna watch the film,” he said, “but something’s not right.”

Something most definitely wasn’t right. The Nets had Durant, who scored 11 of his 27 in the fourth quarter and made all nine of his free-throw attempts, including five in the fourth, and the Knicks had Randle, who had six of his 24 in the final 12 minutes and none from the foul line.

“But I know Julius is driving the ball pretty damn hard,” Thibodeau said, “and I’m pissed!”

To measure the emphasis of the “and I’m pissed!” part, think of Marv Albert saying, “and it counts!”

Gregg Schwartz, Knicks PR man, called a premature end to the questioning, and ol’ Thibs marched out. Knicks PR people are easy targets, given the instructions from the man who signs their paychecks. But on this one, anyway, Schwartz was likely just trying to save his guy from a massive fine. We’ll see what the league has to say about that.

It was a brutal loss for sure. The Knicks had come from 16 points down to take the lead, to lose it again, and then to have Evan Fournier come off the bench and nail a dramatic 3 to tie it with 17 seconds to go. Fournier needed it, and all of his teammates sensed it. They playfully bounced into the Frenchman when he returned to the bench during the timeout. Suddenly, this felt like a night that could change the course of the Knicks’ disappointing year.

Kevin Durant slams one home during the Nets' win.
Kevin Durant slams one home during the Nets’ win.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

But then the refs nailed Robinson on that call that had to be made, and Johnson sank his foul shots, and Fournier missed his runner for the win from just inside half-court. Randle got into it with a ref, just like he had to earn a damaging technical foul with 1:36 left.

“You saw what happened,” Randle said. “Everybody saw what happened. … I’m not going to talk about [the officials] because they clearly don’t understand the game.”

Though he reminded reporters that he only shot two free throws despite aggressively attacking the basket all night, Randle conceded, “It’s on the road. It’s going to happen.”

Yes, that happens all the time in the NBA, especially to 11-9 teams traveling (albeit not very far) to play a 14-6 team at the top of the conference. Randle said he grew up idolizing Durant and he’s “never seen anybody like him.” Hey, people you idolize normally get the benefit of the whistle.

Randle claimed the officials told him he was too strong to get certain calls. “They said that certain contact doesn’t affect me like it affects other players, that I’m stronger …” the Knicks forward said. “Oh man, it pisses me off to be honest with you. That’s not how you officiate the game.”

In an ideal world, he’s right. But in the NBA, Kevin Durant always gets calls that other players don’t. And if the Knicks wanted to benefit from that truth, they should have signed him when they had the chance.

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