Miles McBride and Donte DiVincenzo of the Knicks look on during the fourth...

Miles McBride and Donte DiVincenzo of the Knicks look on during the fourth quarter against the Pelicans at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Through the chaos in the closing moments Monday night, with bodies colliding, coaches screaming and fans — and players — panicking as the Knicks embarked on a wild scramble as the clock ticked down, there was one place of calm in the storm.

Jalen Brunson ignored the bodies flying around and all of the noise and calmly picked up the loose ball, navigated through the Detroit Pistons defense as the clock headed to the final seconds and found Josh Hart heading to the rim as easily as if he were running a layup drill in practice — a steady and reliable force.

But when the Knicks took the court Tuesday night the challenge was far more difficult. They were without their on-court leader because Brunson was forced to sit out with cervical spasms. The Knicks, already shorthanded without Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson, had to face the New Orleans Pelicans without their calming force.

Without Brunson’s stabilizing influence — as well as his 27.7 points per game — the Knicks struggled to find a way to keep up with the Pelicans, falling, 115-92 at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks dug a deeper hole as the fourth quarter wore on with Donte DiVicenzo launching three-point attempts to try to match the firepower of the Pelicans. DiVicenzo finished with 23 points on 8-for-21 shooting, including 7-for-18 from beyond the arc (the second most attempts in a game in franchise history behind J.R. Smith’s 22 on April 6, 2014). But with few weapons and a short roster the Knicks just couldn’t keep up.

“It started in the third,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We still fought. I thought we had a chance in the fourth and then we fell short, but I thought everyone gave everything they had.”

This game seemed to be set to be the sort of street fight the Knicks found themselves engaged in Monday as Hart stole a pass from Zion Williamson and raced downcourt for a layup. Williamson blocked the shot but his windup and follow-through resulted in smashing his arm into Hart’s face.

No foul was called as Hart was treated for a bloody nose. The Knicks could hardly afford to lose Hart, who would play 40 minutes, contributing 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, as Thibodeau trimmed the Knicks rotation to just seven players until they threw in the towel with 2:39 left, trailing by 22.

The Knicks managed to hang around much of the night, trailing just 48-47 at the half with Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 14 of his 20 points. But New Orleans started the third quarter with a 10-0 run as the Knicks misfired on their first five shot attempts — including two air balls — and turned the ball over twice before DiVincenzo finally hit a three 4:11 into the quarter.

“Yes, we miss Jalen, but you miss Julius and you miss OG,” DiVincenzo said. The gravity with Julius in iso’s, you miss that and it trickles down. Jalen went down tonight so the guys usual looks that are kind of more open are a little bit more contested for us. The first half was really good for us. We felt really confident going into the second half. We’ve just got to be more disciplined and play basketball for 48 minutes.”

The Knicks were also without Isaiah Hartenstein, who sat out the second night of the back-to-back set with left Achilles tendinopathy, which has limited him at times over the last two months.

This was just the fourth game on the sideline for Brunson this season with only Hart and DiVincenzo (58 each) playing more games for the Knicks. But even as the Knicks have been able to fill in the points and defense lost with their missing front court, losing Brunson is something different because of the stability he provides.

“That’s the thing, he’s always cool, calm and collected,” Hart said. “Never in a rush. He goes out there and he tries to make the right play. So I’m not sure if he had a shot or not [Monday], I don’t know. But he trusted me to make a play at that point in the game. That’s just the kind of player he is — he’s going to make the right play. Whether that’s shooting or making the right pass.”

The Knicks can only hope that this is just a short-term absence for Brunson. On the second night of a back-to-back Thibodeau indicated that Brunson attempted to get ready to play, but the team opted for caution.

“He took some hits in the game [Monday],” Thibodeau said. “When he woke up this morning he had some spasms. He tried — he went through a bunch of treatments and stuff, so we tried to see where he was and just didn’t feel good about it.”

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