Donte DiVincenzo #0 of the New York Knicks reacts during...

Donte DiVincenzo #0 of the New York Knicks reacts during the fourth quarter after missing a three point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Mar. 10, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Late in the first half Sunday night, Jalen Brunson took a long outlet pass from Donte DiVincenzo and burst to the baseline, drawing contact from Kelly Oubre for a foul and tossing up a short jump shot that fell cleanly through the net.

Then he threw his hands up to the heavens in a gesture of celebration — or relief.

It was the first field goal for Brunson after five misses, which didn’t put him very far behind anyone on either team as the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers combined to set the game back decades before a national television audience.

The 76ers escaped with a 79-73 win at Madison Square Garden that even included a scrum, making it feel as if it were the 1990s all over again.

The offensive performance was the worst by the Knicks since April 3, 2018, when they scored 73 against the Orlando Magic. It was the worst in the NBA this season, beating the 74 the Knicks allowed against the Magic on Friday night.

“I played like dog [expletive],” Brunson said. “That’s it.”

“We played like [expletive],” Josh Hart said. “I mean, we obviously didn’t shoot the ball well. Turnovers bad. I think I had six or seven myself . . . But we’ve got to try to flush it. Got them again on Tuesday. Try to come out and play better.”

Brunson finished with 19 points but shot 6-for-22. The Knicks shot 32.5% as a team and Philadelphia wasn’t much better at 38.8%. The Knicks had 19 turnovers. The lone bright spot for them was that with Orlando losing, the Knicks remained in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

With 4:04 left in the game, the teams had to be pried apart after an altercation, with the scrum spilling over into an actual shoving match.

DiVincenzo was fouled by Oubre, and while he was on the ground, Oubre stood over him. DiVincenzo grabbed his leg and Isaiah Hartenstein shoved Oubre to the ground. Paul Reed also was called for a technical for shoving Precious Achiuwa. Fittingly, Tobias Harris missed the one technical free throw.

“I have no comment,” DiVincenzo said of the scuffle.

“All of that stuff’s funny to me,” Oubre said. “I don’t know why. I just laugh, because nobody’s gonna fight. At the end of the day, I’ll see you Tuesday, bro.”

The Knicks could never get on track offensively, and the frustration went right to the very end.

With the 76ers leading 75-68, Achiuwa blocked Oubre’s driving shot, resulting in a 24-second violation, and Hart’s three-pointer made it a four-point game. But Kyle Lowry answered with a three, and after Hart’s drive brought the Knicks within 78-73, Brunson launched a three with 1:05 left that bounced off the backboard, not even hitting the rim.

The positive for the Knicks was that they allowed only 15 points in the first quarter. Going back to Friday’s game against Orlando, that meant they had surrendered only 89 points in five quarters. But the downside was that they also had 15, and it didn’t get better in the second quarter. The Knicks trailed 37-31 at halftime, their lowest first-half total since November 2015.

The game more closely resembled an NBA game in the second half, but the Knicks still couldn’t pull in front. They tied it at 45 with 5:44 left in the third quarter, but Philadelphia took a 63-56 lead into the fourth.

The Knicks have been playing shorthanded for months now, with Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson missing and an assortment of other players in and out almost on a nightly basis.

Hartenstein left the game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, went directly to the locker room and didn’t return to the bench until a timeout with 8:27 left in the game.

Most teams are hobbling toward the end of the season. The 76ers were without Joel Embiid (surgery to repair a torn meniscus) and Tyrese Maxey (concussion protocol). Between them, they account for nearly 60 points per game.

With two straight games between the two teams — they will play at the Garden again on Tuesday — 76ers coach Nick Nurse was asked if he thought this would have a playoff feel.

“I think it would have been nice,” he said. “But I bet you they’re hoping and we’re certainly hoping that there’s going to be a lot different players. If we meet in the postseason, we’re going to have a lot different players out there on the floor than we have tonight.”

The Knicks already had beaten Philadelphia soundly twice this season on the road — with and without Embiid — and the 76ers didn’t forget it.

“They came into our house couple weeks ago, punched us in the mouth for 48 minutes,” Oubre said. “We wanted to come out here and do the same. They’re a really tough basketball team. Coach Thibs is a tough coach. JB is a tough guard. But guarding him 48 minutes, I need to go in the ice tub.”


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