ATLANTA — It was unclear which hurt more after the Knicks’ 116-104 collapse to the awful Hawks — Enes Kanter’s back or his heart.
Kanter missed a game for the first time as a Knick, suffering from back spasms after waking up Friday morning unable to walk. He put the blame on himself for the defeat, beating himself up over and over for his sudden ailment. Kanter said he was like “a crying baby’’ trying to get his back right while watching the loss in the locker room as he got treatment.
Kanter, the 25-year-old obtained in the Carmelo Anthony trade in September, never disappoints in his fresh role as the Knicks’ free-spirited character and heart and soul.
“I’m in the locker room crying like a little baby,’’ the Turkish center said. “Especially games like this, thinking about the playoffs, we can not lose. You’re thinking about who to blame. You guys can blame me. I’ll take the blame for tonight. Because I was back here like a little baby trying to get my back right and my teammates are battling in a war and I’m here like a crying baby. It’s tough. I can’t accept it. It’s not me.”
This was the first time Kanter missed a game because of back woes and it’s nothing that happened in winning Wednesday’s war over the Raptors.
“I woke up this morning and I couldn’t even walk,’’ Kanter said. “I feel so much better now. If I got the green light, I would’ve played. They told me if I played and made it worse, I wouldn’t play for two, three weeks. I didn’t want to hurt my team for the long run.”
Kanter lifted his shirt up for reporters, showing his torso was slightly bent at the waist— a sign he’s still out of alignment. His status for Saturday in Houston, he said, is “a game-time decision.’’
Kanter’s absence provided a chance for Willy Hernangomez, who has been mostly out of the rotation. However, Kyle O’Quinn started and was ineffective. The Knicks mustered just five offensive rebounds.
Hernangomez, their young building block, had an active six-point first quarter but petered out, going scoreless the rest of the way. He was out of sync as the Hawks picked up the pace in the second half. Hernangomez and O’Quinn combined for eight points and 13 rebounds.
After a solid rookie year, Hernangomez has played mostly garbage time in his nine appearances. Only twice has Hernangomez been in the game when it wasn’t a rout.
“I‘m excited to get the chance to play again,’’ Hernangomez said before the game. “I’m ready. It’s a big chance for me. I try to play 100 percent and expend all my energy.’’
After the season opener, Hernangomez, who speaks primarly Spanish, admitted he never heard the expression “garbage time.’’ Now he knows it well.
“If I get those minutes, I will use it,’’ Hernangomez said of mop-up duty. “I think I can play more minutes than garbage minutes. Every time I go on the court, whether starting or the last two minutes, I enjoy playing basketball.’’
As bad luck would have it, Joakim Noah didn’t make the trip to Atlanta because of the flu. Noah, who was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, still has not dressed for a game this season.
Courtney Lee was good friends with Derrick Rose when they were Knicks teammates and doesn’t believe an ESPN report Rose is mulling retirement because of the spate of injuries.
Rose, suffering from a severe ankle sprain, has a leave of absence from the Cavaliers. His Knicks’ stint ended with knee surgery in April. When he left the Knicks in January, missing a game without telling the organization, there were rumors, too, that he was considering retirement. Rose emphatically denied it upon his return.
“I can’t believe anything until I hear it from him,’’ Lee told The Post. “It does surprise me. He’s a guy who always puts the work in and takes care of his body. I don’t see him saying that.’’