The night started with Tyson Chandler getting his championship ring and ended with the Knicks feeling about as far away from winning one as they've felt at any point this season.
While there were moments when the Knicks looked very good -- namely a 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter that briefly had them in the lead -- most of the night was a frustrating slog as the team missed opportunity after opportunity to grab the game because they looked less like a team than a bunch of strangers who happened to be wearing the same shirt.
That's why it ended 95-85 Mavericks instead of with another trip to .500 for the Knicks.
It's not even a question of the Knicks not being on the same page as one another at this point. They're not even reading the same book.
Jeremy Lin is off reading some physics textbook from his Harvard days to try to figure out why someone so quick on offense moves like a glacier on defense, Chandler is perusing some inspirational tome about succeeding while playing with one good hand, Amar'e Stoudemire's reading short stories that alternate from captivating to gibberish and Carmelo Anthony is staring blankly into a copy of Joseph Campbell's heroic myths that he's holding upside down. We could go on and on, but you get the point.
Anthony is the one capturing most of the attention for this game and it's for good reason. He had a miserable offensive game, as bad as he's ever had in a Knicks uniform, and threw away an inbounds pass because he wasn't paying attention to where he threw it while bickering with Shawn Marion.
He looked frustrated, something that carried over to the postgame when he briefly blew off reporters before returning to give voice to said frustration, and it's not too difficult to figure out the source of that frustration. When Anthony did get the ball, his drives to the hoop lacked explosive finishes, and he spent long stretches of the third quarter getting position in the post only to see the ball move in other directions.
If the Knicks offense was cooking, it would be understandable to move the ball and take good shots. But the offense wasn't cooking, it was settling for bad shots by Stoudemire (who played well outside of that stretch) and the Knicks weren't doing a thing to get Anthony going.
Contrast that with the Mavs, who kept going to Dirk Nowitzki even though Nowitzki was just 1-for-8 during the first half of the game. Anthony was 2-for-8 in the first half, but he got just four shots as Lin ran the Knicks from a six-point halftime deficit to one that bulged to as many as 19 in the third quarter.
Make no mistake, Anthony was awful on Tuesday night and there's a good chance that more touches would have just meant more awful play. He deserves scorn, especially for that atrocity of an inbounds pass, but it's not as easy as just blaming him and moving along.
It was an odd lineup that brought the Knicks back, one keyed by the defense of Iman Shumpert and featuring an often aimless offense that passed on many chances to make a serious lead while the Mavericks were being shut out for more than seven minutes. They had gone back down by three when Lin and Anthony returned from long stretches on the bench and the Mavericks promptly scored the next 10 points to put the game out of reach.
That's an easy narrative, but the wheels were set in motion long before. A semi-coherent offense in the first three quarters would have meant that late heroics weren't necessary, as would have hitting more than 15-of-23 free throw attempts.
The end simply magnified the problems that existed all night and the problems that have existed since Anthony's return. He and Lin haven't figured out a way to work together, something that is on both of them and something that simply can't continue if the Knicks want to take advantage of a very winnable division to avoid an impossible first round playoff matchup.
Assuming, of course, this tough schedule stretch doesn't totally sink a team that doesn't seem sure if they should patch the hole allowing water into the ship or if they should just go swimming in it.