In the fourth quarter in Charlotte on Friday night, the Knicks looked like their best selves.
They outscored the Hornets 33-18. They moved the ball like triangle school graduates and hit six three-pointers. After trailing by 21 points late in the third quarter, they stormed back to take a one-point lead on Carmelo Anthony's three with 40.7 seconds left.
But the pain of another loss was on their faces after former UConn star Kemba Walker drove for a lefty layup at the buzzer to give Charlotte a 103-102 victory. The Hornets (5-15) had lost 10 in a row.
The Knicks (4-17), who host Portland at the Garden Sunday night, have lost seven straight. They know they lost this game -- and many others, including Thursday night's three-point loss to the Cavaliers -- during the first three quarters.
"I thought we let the fatigue get the best of us coming into a back-to-back situation late night the night before,'' coach Derek Fisher said. "So once it was so bad that we didn't have any choice but to fight and compete, that's what the guys did. It was good that they showed that, but it was too late.''
A despondent J.R. Smith said: "Eventually we're going to get out of this slump, but we're digging ourselves pretty deep.
"When your back is against the wall the way ours was, there is only two things you can do: fight and come back or get blown out. We chose to fight. We just have to play scrappy, move the ball and continue to do what we did in the throughout the game. We cannot wait until we're down and start to come back.''
So that's the choice the Knicks faced: Feel bad about the loss or feel good about the comeback.
"I don't want to feel good about a loss, but at the end of the day, I feel we did a great job of fighting back,'' said Anthony, who had 32 points a night after totaling nine against the Cavaliers and missing a potential tying three-pointer on the last shot.
"Being down  going into the fourth, coming all the way back and having a chance to win the basketball game with us being in the lead by one point with four seconds -- I'll take that. I don't like the result, but I'll take that.''
But why do they play so much better after falling behind by double digits? Fisher said he hasn't put a finger on it yet.
"I'm not sure if we're playing well because we are behind or if it is because we have a different sense of urgency,'' he said. "We have a group that had a tough year last year and we are off to a tough start. So sometimes you start to expect to be behind.''
Said Anthony: "When you get down, you start playing a little bit more freely, you start playing without a care and you get out there, you're just running and gunning, you're just playing basketball. I think any time you get down, you want to fight. You don't want to give up.''
So they have that going for them. But the Knicks still are searching for how to get that desperate fourth-quarter mentality going before the opening tip.
"We have to just do it,'' Anthony said. "It's not something we can sit here and talk about. It's starting the games off the way we know how and the way we should. At this point it's not about talking about it. We have to do it.''