The Knicks closed out the home portion of their regular season, but lost out on a chance to move up in the Eastern Conference standings following a 99-93 win over the Clippers.
J.R. Smith was the high scorer for the Knicks (35-30), netting 21 points off the bench, but New York’s effort to move within one game of Orlando (37-28) for the coveted No. 6 seed of the Eastern Conference playoff standings went in vain. The Magic knocked off the toothless Bobcats earlier in the evening to preserve the No. 6 seed and a first-round matchup with the Pacers.
The Clippers (40-26) came into the Garden barely holding onto the desirable No. 4 seed out West. But coming off the back-end of a back-to-back, they never could get over the hump despite a manic 21-3 run in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks used a balanced attack as four of their starters notched double figures in scoring. They also received help from a bench that was led by Smith and Steve Novak, who added 14 points, including four 3-pointers. Smith also added five assists and four steals, as their bench outdueled Los Angeles’ reserves, 43-20.
“It was a big game for us, a good win. We were able to get a lot of guys
in the second unit some great run for us,” said Amar’e Stoudemire. “Defensively, we were playing great.
And that’s what keyed us.”
The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin’s 29 points, as All-Star point guard Chris Paul sat out the contest with an ailing groin. Second-year player Eric Bledsoe got the start, but was mostly a non-factor as he chipped inonly two points. The slack was mainly picked up by Griffin and Randy Foye, who tallied 28 points. Griffin also added 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals while the New Jersey-native Foye played superb defense with three steals to go along with five rebounds and four assists. He also knocked down a team-high four 3-pointers.
The win was especially sweet for the Knicks, as they were able to keep the Sixers (35-30) percentage points behind them in the standings, as Philadelphia also won their game.
Stoudemire, who is still working his way back into the mix, added 10 points and seven rebounds in just under 30 minutes of work. Stoudemire, along with a majority of the starters, mostly sat on the bench as the Clippers chipped away at the 18-point deficit. But ultimately he said he was happy with how the reserves closed out the game and played solid defense.
Carmelo Anthony, who had 17 points and six rebounds, was the key to an early 24-19 first-quarter lead. The All-Star small forward joined Stoudemire on the bench during the frantic fourth quarter, but according to interim head coach Mike Woodson, he never gave a thought to inserting his stars back into the game when times got tough.
“I’ve got great confidence in my guys to come off the bench and I wanted to see if they can make plays. The offense got stagnant once [the Clippers] went to a zone, but then J.R. was finally able to get the mismatch and bring it home,” said Woodson. “When you go on the road you need to be solid in everything you do, almost perfect. You can’t play the same way as you do home as on the road. You gotta have better bench, rebound the ball better, play defense and do the little intangibles well. … You have to find a way to get one game somehow in order to get out of a series.”
Los Angeles almost proved to be road warriors, as they used a 14-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within three points. They were finally turned away for good when Smith knocked down a long-range 3 at the 2:24 mark to stem the tide and later added a long-range jumper over Kenyon Martin with just 31 seconds remaining. Smith had 11 of his points in the final stanza. New York finally put the game on ice by knocking down free throws in the final seconds.
Woodson praised Smith for his all-around play — even if the sometimes erratic Smith can give the coach heartburn.
“He’s a threat at scoring, but he’s also great at setting guys up, especially in the pick-and-roll,” Woodson said. “He gets out-of-hand sometimes, but I trust him. What he does is a plus.”
Thursday’s game in Charlotte will neither be a plus nor minus for the Knicks. To a man, the Knicks don’t care if they get the No. 7 or No. 8 seed, but are looking forward to closing out the regular season on a high note.
“It doesn’t matter who we get. We just want to go to Charlotte and get a win tomorrow,” said Stoudemire. “We’ll be ready regardless who we play [in the playoffs].”
Woodson agreed with his star’s assertion, adding he’ll coach the Bobcats game as he would any other contest.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot. It doesn’t matter who we play, but I like to win so I’m going into tomorrow’s game with the idea of winning the game,” said Woodson, who admitted he had no clue of what Orlando was doing. “There’ll be some limited minutes but I haven’t had the chance to talk to guys and see how they feel. I’m not one to sit guys. They’ll have to tell me they want to sit.”
»The Knicks improved to 11-1 at home under Mike Woodson.
»Their 22-11 home record is their best home winning percentage in 11 years.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 as the Knicks prepare for the playoffs.