Luka Doncic #77 and Tim Hardaway Jr. #11 of the...

Luka Doncic #77 and Tim Hardaway Jr. #11 of the Dallas Mavericks defend against Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It was supposed to be the reunion game for Jalen Brunson on Saturday as the Knicks faced the Dallas Mavericks, the team with which he spent four seasons  before bolting in free agency for New York. But much of the crowd, with Luka Doncic jerseys sprinkled through the stands, was here to root on the Dallas star still in place.

But the cheers and MVP chants for Doncic were drowned out in the second half by the grumbling of disgruntled Knicks fans. A one-sided third quarter with all the usual culprits — three-pointers raining down on them, lack of effort and intensity and an inability to find any answers for Doncic — turned this into a referendum on just how much work the Knicks' front office has to do.

Doncic again put on display the lack of star power the Knicks have, but that disjointed roster was unable to  compete even on its home court on this day. And did we mention that the star that could have been, Donovan Mitchell, arrives Sunday evening with the Cavaliers?

The Knicks saw a 15-point second-quarter lead disappear under an avalanche of Doncic highlights and Dallas three-point field goals in a 41-15 third quarter, and they fell behind by as many as 32 points en route to a 121-100 loss.

Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. totaled 36 points and 14-for-18 shooting in the third quarter, including 8-for-11 from three-point range.  The Mavericks (11-11) turned a 38-23 deficit into a 116-84 lead, outscoring the Knicks 93-46 in the span of just under 28 minutes. Dallas shot 24-for-61 from outside the arc, the most three-point attempts ever allowed by the Knicks.

Midway through the fourth quarter,  Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau emptied the bench.There were no answers and it was hard to find a place where you could not place blame for this miserable performance. While the lack of a star is obvious — and the performance of stars against them a loud, thumping reminder almost on a nightly basis — the lack of effort and intensity is what really set off an alarm.

“Got to give them credit,” said Brunson, who finished with 13 points, three assists and three turnovers. “They just wanted it more. That’s just it. They just wanted it more.

“I mean it definitely is concerning. I think that’s something that can be fixed. Just our intensity, attention to detail, all that stuff — that’s something that can be fixed. That’s something we can control. We just have to control what we can control and just go out there and give it our all.”

Brunson was quick to pin the blame on himself and his teammates rather than the coach.

“I think Coach Thibs has done a great job,” he said. “He’s been able to put us in positions where we need to succeed. I think he knows where to put those puzzle pieces. It’s just on us to actually execute and do things. So it’s just — I know he’s going to get a lot of the blame, guys are going to get some of the blame. It’s on us. We’re the players out there not battling. It’s his job to put us in positions, which he’s done.”

The Knicks somehow have lost seven of eight at home around reputable performances on the road. The five-game western trip that ended with a 3-2 record seemed to provide some hope that this team could put together something as a whole that is more than the parts would indicate, but a day like Saturday erases that belief.

It wasn’t just Doncic with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists who did the damage.  Hardaway finished with 28 points in 27:42 and provided a reminder that he was dealt along with Kristaps Porzingis in a salary cap- clearing move to bring in stars — a dream that has proved hollow. The Knicks (10-13) are left to compete with a roster that is composed mostly of assets the team is hoping to deal for that elusive star.

Julius Randle scored 21 of his 24 points in the first half, but there really was nothing else for Knicks fans to cheer about, other than Immanuel Quickley scoring 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. 

Thibodeau remained steadfast in what they have, trying to keep up with the more talented teams in high-scoring shootouts.

“Well, you look at it in totality in terms of, does this give us the best chance to win, and I think it does,” Thibodeau said. “The bounce of the ball goes a different way, there’s probably three or four more wins. Over the course of a season, you’ve got to believe that it works itself out. I want us doing the right things each and every day. Trust what we’re doing. Keep working at it. When we fall short, we’re disappointed, but be more determined the next time and learn from it, grow. And we have a lot of young guys that will get better as we go along. So stay the course, be strong-minded, be determined and every night, just look at the scores. There’s crazy scores every night.”