Opening Tip: The Knicks' fourth quarter

Every weekday morning throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: How can the Knicks pick it up in the fourth quarter?

What happened Tuesday night in Indiana, where the Knicks blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and ended up losing to the Pacers 112-104, hasn't been a common occurrence? On the season, the Knicks hold a +2.1 average fourth-quarter scoring margin -- the second-best mark in the league after the Chicago Bulls (+2.7).

But the Knicks' collapses have been a more recent problem. In their last four games, as they've gone 2-2, they lost the fourth-quarter scoring margin three times: 27-16 against the Orlando Magic on March 28 (a win), 26-21 against the Atlanta Hawks on March 30 (a loss) and 40-17 against the Indiana Pacers on April 3 (a loss). The Knicks' -6.0 average fourth-quarter scoring margin in their last three games ranks them second-worst in the league during that stretch.

So what's changed? Arguably the biggest thing is fatigue, which Mike Woodson pointed out after the loss to the Pacers. With Jeremy Lin, Amare Stoudemire and Jared Jeffries out, the head coach has been adding more minutes to his current players, and with the defensive intensity he's been demanding since taking over on March 14, that seemed to take a bit of a toll on the team in Indiana, especially because they're down in numbers. Not only are those aforementioned players absent, but Baron Davis (hamstring) and Tyson Chandler (groin) haven't been 100 percent healthy.

In the five games before Lin and Stoudemire went down, the Knicks, at full strength, won the fourth-quarter scoring margin each time.

The second recent trend has been the Knicks' lack of focus in the final period. After the Pacers game, Woodson described the fourth-quarter collapse by saying, "We somewhat self-destructed a little bit. We kind of lost our composure. We played solid for three quarters. We gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter ... We totally got away from our defensive strategy, I thought. It was a winnable game."

What was particularly frustrating for Woodson was that he said the Pacers didn't change their offensive strategy in the fourth quarter. The Knicks stopped playing the same level of defense, especially by not showing fast enough with their rotations, which allowed Danny Granger to be a fourth-quarter downtown killer (he finished 5-for-8 from that distance in the game).

"[The Pacers] didn't do anything any differently and [we] went away from [the defense]," Woodson said. "I've got to take the blame for it because I've got to get them doing it for 48 minutes, and we had been doing that."

How do you think the Knicks can pick it up in the fourth quarter? Leave us your comments below.

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