PHILADELPHIA -- The NBA's leading 3-point shooter had the ball alone in the corner with 3 seconds left, and all he needed to do was pull the trigger and see whether the Knicks would go home winners or losers.
But Shawne Williams had a mental hiccup, hesitated and made the fateful decision to drive toward the hoop. He released an off-balance layup attempt with his left (nonshooting) hand, the ball rolled off the rim and what could have been a magnificent final-minute comeback instead ended in defeat.
"A high-percentage shot for me is a 3. I don't know what I was thinking. I'd just say it was a dumb, young mental mistake that I made. The fellas might not think that, but I think that because I had just made one to get [the deficit] to 2. So it should have been a no-brainer to shoot that next shot," Williams said after the Knicks dropped a roller coaster ride of a 100-98 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
Unable to defend Elton Brand, Williams yielded 19 first-quarter points to the Sixers power forward as New York fell behind by 14 early on. But this was a game in which the tide turned many times, and the Knicks came back to tie it in the second quarter and took a nine-point lead into the fourth following a scintillating third quarter by Raymond Felton (15 of his 26 points and three of his nine assists).
That's when the wheels came off, the Knicks missing 10 of their first 11 shots and allowing an 18-0 run that put Philadelphia ahead by 10 on a jumper by Brand (33 points, 16 rebounds) with 3:18 left.
And that's when Williams checked back into the game, with the Knicks needing his 3-point marksmanship (he entered the game shooting 50.6 percent from behind the arc, tops in the NBA ahead of Matt Bonner's 50.4).
Williams delivered, too, following up a 3-pointer by Danilo Gallinari with 1:17 remaining (to cut an eight-point deficit to five) with one of his own to make it a two-point game with 35.8 seconds remaining.
Philadelphia's Lou Williams then dribbled down the clock, drove the lane and missed (Sixers coach Doug Collins was irate that a foul was not called), and the Knicks rebounded with 9 seconds left.
But they were out of timeouts, and they had to go for the win or the tie on the fly. The Knicks got the ball upcourt in an instant, and Gallinari whipped the ball to Williams as he stood wide open in the corner.
We'll let Williams tell the story from there:
"I should have shot it; that's all I can say. I feel like the shot I took was not the best shot in my repertoire," Williams said. "I should have shot it, and next time I'll shoot it.
"It was a mistake that I made, and I'll own up to it. There shouldn't have even been a thought -- just shoot the ball. When the game's going like that, you've got to really slow everything down in your mind. When I crossed half court, I was saying to myself: 'We can win it, we can win it.' I thought Gallo was open, but it was a great pass from Gallo and I just overthought it. That just happens sometimes, but it won't happen no more."
The defeat dropped New York's record to 25-24, leaving the Knicks one loss from dropping to .500 for the first time since they were 9-9 back on Nov. 28.
They won't have to wait long to try to avenge this defeat, playing the second of this set against the 76ers in New York at noon Sunday as a Super Bowl appetizer.
It'll be a shocker if D'Antoni again tries to go small at the start against a team with superior height and girth inside, and it could mark the return of Timofey Mozgov to the starting lineup if Ronny Turiaf, who sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter, is unable to play.
But as important as the start will be, the finish always matters more.
And after a fourth quarter in which the Knicks shot just 5-for-19 and were outscored 27-10 before scoring the final six points of the game, they are going to need better decision-making (they had six turnovers and five field goals in the fourth quarter) from everyone, not to mention a return to getting some clutch production out of Amare Stoudemire (1-for-5 in the fourth, 7-for-19 overall for 21 points) to avoid a situation in which a nine-point final period lead can quickly become a 10-point deficit, as it did in this one.
"Those are tough plays. It's really nobody's fault; it's just what happened," D'Antoni said. "You're talking split-second decisions, and we got down there and we did the right thing. The ball got around to people; we just didn't come away with it."