At last, the joint was hopping. At last, the Knicks looked ready to make a decisive run, to kick the Clippers in the kneecaps, to cash in a satisfying victory. Raymond Felton dished the ball to Amar’e Stoudemire, and Stoudemire flushed it as he was being fouled by Ryan Hollins, and the old-fashioned three-point play gave the Knicks a 73-71 lead 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.

And all was right with the world at Madison Square Garden.

Except, as it turned out, nothing was right with the world at Madison Square Garden. An 11-2 Clippers run became a 19-5 run became a 31-18 quarter, and by the end the 19,033 people inside were too despondent even to boo. The final was 102-88, the buzz was bloodied, the joy killed, the gym silent.

“We couldn’t get stops,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “We have to clean up. We have to get better.”

The Knicks are smack in the middle of that numbing stretch of season when the games fall off the calendar slowly, like days off a prison sentence, when it still feels like the playoffs don’t begin for an eon and a half. Wednesday they’ll play their 50th game of the season and then take a week off for the All-Star break, which means they’ll still have 32 games left before the trial by which they’ll ultimately be judged gets under way.

And some days, they simply don’t do such a good job masking the reality that they aren’t good enough — as the Heat is, as the Thunder is, as even the fully-stocked Clippers are — to meander through these stretches and win anyway based on muscle memory and talent.

“We know we can beat teams like that,” said Carmelo Anthony, who yesterday tried to make that happen all by himself with 42 points and eight rebounds. “We’ve done that before.”

They have. They’ve swept the Spurs this season. They’ve twice blown out the Heat. There’s no team in basketball hotter than the Nuggets — the Knicks beat the Nuggets this year. They have a winning record against teams with winning records. Their 32-17 mark has been earned, not ceded.

Yet it is impossible for the Knicks to go more than a week or two without holding any number of their flaws high against the light, for maximum exposure. And yesterday, it just so happened that just about every item in their anxiety closet was on full public display.