March 4, 2020 | 10:07pm | Updated March 5, 2020 | 1:56am
Spike Lee didn’t miss much Wednesday night — except a late and brief “Sell the team!’’ chant.
Late in the fourth quarter, the chant James Dolan despises broke out. It appeared from a video as if a group of four fans were leaving their seats while chanting as security trailed them.
Lee, the Knicks’ most famous fan, was not there as he said he is boycotting the Garden the rest of the season over his sudden feud with the eccentric owner.
Mike Miller’s potentially distracted Knicks were sluggish at the start, falling behind by 17 in the first quarter against Utah. The Knicks never could get over the hump in a 112-104 loss to the Jazz.
Knicks officials denied any fan was “ejected or escorted’’ out of the arena for chanting “Sell the team!’’ A source said security, under the code of conduct policy, talked to the fans about the chants. A video surfaced of four fans talking to security by an elevator with a police officer pictured.
The last time fans chanted “Sell the team’’ on Jan. 31, The Post reported a teenager was escorted from his seat to a room for questioning.
The loss broke a two-game Knicks winning streak — including a big victory over Houston — that few knew existed thanks to it being overshadowed. Dolan’s war with Lee for entering the Garden via his favorite employee/media entrance Monday became national news.
The players said the media furor was not a distraction, even though they fell behind early, not ready for Utah’s precision.
“We don’t worry about that — we play basketball,’’ Bobby Portis said. “We pushed that aside and worried about basketball. That didn’t affect the loss. We just didn’t have it tonight.’’
Asked specifically about Lee’s fight with the owner, Portis said, “No comment on the Spike situation.’’
The Knicks clearly were in no mood to talk Spike.
“We have a lot of young guys trying to focus on getting better, being an NBA player,’’ Taj Gibson said. “I’ll let the higher-ups focus on that.’’
Gibson, however, couldn’t help mention his tie with Lee. Both are out of Fort Greene section of Brooklyn.
“You think about Fort Greene, you think Spike Lee,’’ Gibson said. “I talk to him every time he comes to the games.”
There were lot more empty seats than usual Wednesday, especially in the upper reaches. Despite its gaudy 39-22 record, Utah is 29th in road attendance. The Knicks are amid a five-game homestand in an eight-day span, so something had to give. According to Garden officials, it is not believed the soft turnout was related to the coronavirus.
It was also the first defeat in the Leon Rose Era that began Monday. The new president has settled in and is already giving input to Miller despite the Dolan/Lee furor.
“We talk about a wide range of things and what we need to get better everyday,’’ the interim coach said before the game.
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 32 points (12 of 21). Portis added 21 points off the bench.
The Jazz were led by Bojan Bogdanovic and Westchester product Donovan Mitchell, who each scored 23 points. Knicks rookie RJ Barrett didn’t have much of a game, cooling off from a recent hot streak. Barrett put up 14 points (5 of 12 shooting).
Miller said the early malaise stemmed from being unable to handle Utah’s vaunted pick-and-roll that had either Mitchell or Mike Conley going downhill with center Rudy Gobert (18 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) as a rolling option surrounded by 3-point shooters.
“I’m not sure there is a better execution team in the NBA than Utah,’’ Miller said.
The Knicks rallied in the third quarter from a 10-point halftime deficit. Barrett sank a 3-pointer and point guard Elfrid Payton (20 points, nine assists) blew past Conley on a crossover move for a layup to make it 66-63 with 9:49 left in the third.
The Knicks couldn’t get closer. The Jazz responded after Portis lost the ball, springing a Utah fast break that ended with Gobert finishing a lob and getting fouled by Randle. The three-point play gave the Jazz an 87-76 lead with 2:09 left in the third. Utah led 93-78 entering the fourth quarter and the Knicks were toast.
Only the chanting — and perhaps an ejection — was left.