There was a moment late in Monday's 94-84 Knicks win over the 76ers that made you think, "What if . . . "
David Lee was one basket away from a double-double - at least 10 points and 10 rebounds - and the Knicks were leading by seven points with just over 1:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Lee had the ball and could have easily tried to get to 10 points. Double-doubles are a measure of his worth heading into his free-agent summer and Lee already has 44 of them, one short of Patrick Ewing's Knicks record.
But Lee swung the ball to Danilo Gallinari, who hit a three-pointer to put the Knicks up by 10. It was one of only two assists the Knicks had in the 8:25 after Lee hit a layup to give him eight points on the night. Both assists were from Lee, who had three for the game to go with 16 rebounds.
"What if . . . "
What if the Knicks had always played this unselfishly this season, this together? Maybe they'd be battling for a playoff spot instead of hoping to get to 30 wins. (At 24-43, the Knicks will visit the Celtics in Boston on Wednesday in a St. Patrick's Day matchup.)
The win over the 76ers was a symphony in team play, perhaps more significant than the 34-point romp over the Mavericks in Dallas on Saturday. That could be written off as a fluke. But the 76ers (23-44) are on the Knicks' level, and the Knicks were the team that stayed together in the second half on the road.
They were led by rookie point guard Toney Douglas, who had his second eye-opening start in a row. Douglas scored nine in the fourth quarter and 20 overall with seven assists. Gallinari had 21 points, Al Harrington had 15 off the bench, Tracy McGrady (settling into a 25-minute-a-night role) had 14, Wilson Chandler had 12 and Lee had all those rebounds despite being in foul trouble in the first half.
And the Knicks played defense! 76ers star Andre Iguodala helped out by shooting 5-for-22 (0-for-7 from three-point range), but there was the definite sight of pressure being employed as the Knicks wore down the 76ers late.
"I thought that at times even in the first half we played well," said coach Mike D'Antoni, who gave his players Tuesday off. "With [Lee] off the floor we had trouble rebounding and we had trouble keeping the lead. Being able to keep David on the floor and [Chandler] the whole game - he was awesome - and Toney made big plays and Gallo played well. A lot of guys did what they are supposed to do."
What if D'Antoni had been able to say that after more games? Something nice for Knicks fans to think about at least as another playoff-less season heads to its conclusion.