If ever there was a lost built to be the one you point to as the reason why this Knicks season ends without a playoff bid, it was the one in Indiana on Tuesday night.
For three quarters, it was a night that you wanted to bottle up and savor. The Knicks erased a seven-point Pacers lead in the second quarter and turned it into a 15-point lead after three quarters.
Carmelo Anthony was lighting up the scoreboard once again, his teammates were sinking threes and the defense was stifling everything Indiana tried to do to get back into the game. It was impossible not to look at the standings and start figuring out what it would take to catch the Celtics for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Trouble is, the Knicks seemed to do the same exact thing. The defense, stifling for the entire night, collapsed as the Pacers scored 40 points and wound up nearly turning the game into a rout the other way.
The final score was 112-104, but would have been much worse if not for Anthony trying to single-handedly bring the Knicks back to life after they had their doors blown off in perhaps the most hideous stretch of basketball in this entire season.
It wasn't so much that the Pacers started hitting their shots or getting out in transition after Knicks turnovers that was galling, it was the fact that every single missed Pacers shot seemed to be rebounded by Louis Amundson because he simply outworked the Knicks.
Getting beaten by getting outhustled is one of the hardest things to fathom when your chances of making it to the playoffs are hanging by such a slim thread. The Knicks clearly understand this as they were the more aggressive team for the large portion of the game, but the whole thing just went right off the rails in the fourth.
Blame Mike Woodson for not responding with better lineups as the game started getting out of hand, especially for keeping Landry Fields and Steve Novak on the bench while the offense stagnated into Melo or nothing down the stretch. Blame Iman Shumpert for undercutting David West on a layup in the third, handing over points to the Pacers and forcing West from the game.
That led to a smaller, quicker Pacers lineup that was better suited to threatening the Knicks than the one that they had been torching all night. Anthony was feasting on a mismatch with West offensively, but life got tougher in the fourth.
He still scored 10 points, though, and once again reminded everyone why you traded for him in the first place. He missed two good looks from three late in the fourth quarter that could have made for a different outcome, but fingering him as a highly responsible party for this loss would be tragically misguided.
This was a game the Knicks had won, largely because of Anthony's efforts. Giving it away was a team effort, but Anthony was the only one allowing you to hold out hope of a different outcome.
It's looking a lot like that's the way things will go the rest of the way for the Knicks and the fourth quarter on Tuesday night makes you question whether this can be a winning formula.