NEW YORK -- The blame for Sunday's defeat? It goes all the way back to the end of the Isiah Thomas era.
It's a stretch, but that's sort of what coach Mike D'Antoni said after the New York Knicks were outscored 13-2 over the final 4:27, failing to make a single field goal over that span, in a 106-96 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday that erased several days' worth of positive momentum.
"We had wide-open shots, and we didn't run some plays exactly as they were drawn up," D'Antoni said. "That stuff happens, and it happens when you're trying to dig yourself out of a hole, and it's been a hole here for two years.
"We don't have that swagger, and that's where we just lost it a little bit."
There's no arguing that swagger is a quality that is built up over time, fueled by the successes of the past. But this year's revamped Knicks have no collective past, and they're proving themselves to be a hot-and-cold team that can kill you from downtown one night (see Thursday versus Chicago) and then kill themselves with an inability to finish in the fourth (see the home opener versus Portland, and this game too).
The Knicks were actually given a standing ovation by the matinee crowd prior to halftime after they survived a 70 percent shooting performance by the Sixers in the first quarter and took a 56-54 lead into the locker room at intermission.
The Garden fans remained into it throughout a tight second half, their emotions peaking when Amare Stoudemire stole an entry pass by Jrue Holiday and raced downcourt for a fast-break layup and three-point play that gave them a 92-90 lead. Raymond Felton recorded his 10th assist of the game on the play, becoming the first Knicks point guard since Stephon Marbury in 2005-06 to reach double figures in assists in three consecutive games.
Problem was, that three-point play came with 6:46 left, and a tip-in by Stoudemire (on which he may have gotten away with offensive goaltending) with 4:27 remaining ended up being the only field goal they converted over the remainder of the game.
"Tough game, early game, but no excuses," said Felton, whose 2-for-11 shooting was the worst among the five New York players who each attempted at least 11 shots. "They wanted it more than we did. They played with more energy. The better team won today."
Nothing showed the poor shooting more than the 3-point statistics.
The Knicks came into the game leading the NBA in 3-pointers per game (10.2) and seventh in 3-point percentage (.386), but they went 3-for-19 from downtown, including 1-for-8 in a fourth quarter in which they outrebounded the 76ers 7-1 on the offensive glass and took 24 shots -- twice as many as Philly -- but made only five. And this happened against a Philadelphia defense that was missing its best defender, Andre Iguodala (strained right Achilles tendon).
Felton was 0-for-5 in the fourth, Wilson Chandler was 1-for-5, Stoudemire was 2-for-5 and Toney Douglas was 0-for-3 in a period in which Tony Battie (yes, he's still in the league) was the best player on the court stat-wise, going 2-for-2 with one steal and five defensive rebounds.
"We are a very young team, and young mistakes happen sometimes," Stoudemire said. "Definitely no fun to lose to Philly. We know we're a much better team than we showed today."
More than a few boos were heard at the final buzzer, and they were certainly as deserved -- or more so -- than the standing ovation the Knicks received at halftime. But what is important to remember in the big picture is that this Knicks team is going to experience growing pains, and those pains are going to be magnified by the size of the market and the intense longing of the basketball fans in that market to have a team that is at least worthy of being followed closely.
Let's face it, the Knicks haven't been compelling in a positive way since the last time they made the playoffs, in 2004. And in that postseason, they stayed compelling for about three days en route to getting swept by the New Jersey Nets.
Since then, the Isiah Thomas saga was compelling, the Larry Brown dramatics were compelling, the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment lawsuit was compelling, and the pursuit of LeBron James was compelling.
What happened on the court during those years? Far from compelling.
So the highs are going to feel a little higher with so much hope invested in this remade roster, and the lows are going to feel lower because each loss is going to remind Knicks fans how far they really are from becoming truly competitive. As I've been saying for a month and a half, they look like a 41-41 team to me.
They're .500 now, and they've already stunk up the Garden and electrified the joint, too.
And the next time they're back at MSG, on Wednesday night against Golden State, they'll be facing a power forward, David Lee, who will be out to prove just how much his hard work and hustle were underappreciated during his time with the team. There's no doubt he'll be cheered. The question for the home team is whether those cheers can be channeled back toward the Knicks, as they continue to get to know one another.
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.