Madison Square Garden was flooded with 76ers fans on Sunday afternoon, and for the Knicks, maybe that was a good thing. The sound of cheers for the visitors drowned out the boos for the home team.
The Knicks made a game of it, but as has become a regular occurrence, they fell apart down the stretch, and the celebration was on for Philadelphia and the fans crowded into the Garden with Joel Embiid jerseys. The 125-109 loss was the Knicks’ fifth straight and 15th in their last 18.
And now, at least they don’t have to worry about the sounds of the hometown fans as they embark on a seven-game road trip that could put an end to any longshot notion of a run to the postseason. The Knicks (25-36) are four games out of the last play-in spot with 21 to play.
While coach Tom Thibodeau preaches taking it day by day and players have mostly mimicked that approach, just how they will get out of this slide escapes them, too.
"That’s a good question," Evan Fournier said after Sunday’s loss. "Maybe we need one or two games where we do execute and we win. We get like, ‘OK, this [is how] it’s supposed to happen,’ build a little bit more confidence maybe, because we are definitely lacking confidence now as a group.
"We have a great group of guys. We all love each other, I mean that. But our togetherness down the stretch is not good enough. . . So we are second-guessing at times. It should be second nature — boom, boom, boom, this is what we’re doing. As long as we are not doing that, it’s going to be hard to close out games against teams that are good."
76ers coach Doc Rivers, who had Thibodeau as his assistant running the defense when they won a championship in Boston, had no explanation for how the Knicks have dropped from the team he saw last season — when they went 41-31 and earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — to this one.
"When you make changes, you make changes," Rivers said. "And sometimes that goes well for you and sometimes it doesn’t. Chemistry is a very fickle thing, as we all know. When you have it, you want it. Sometimes you don’t even know why you have it but you know you want to try to protect it. And when you lose it, you don’t know why you’re losing it sometimes."
The Knicks’ problems are hard to explain and maybe too numerous to mention. With Kemba Walker sitting out the rest of the season and Derrick Rose sidelined since Dec. 16, there is not a true, experienced point guard on the roster. That plays into their inability to maintain any offensive production in the fourth quarter, with too many leads or tight games falling apart at the end.
"I’m talking about everything," Fournier said. "I feel like we’re in a position right now where we are down two or down three, teams get on a run, it’s like, ‘Oh [expletive], again.’ Where we have control of the game — I think those last five games, we’ve had big leads every night, and, yeah, like I said, maybe just a good win would help us more, more confidence would help."