The Knicks won what was essentially a glorified scrimmage when they knocked off the Hawks, 98-92, in the regular-season finale.
Wednesday night’s anti-climactic contest was missing most of each team’s main stars, as neither squad really needed the game to improve their seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
New York raced out to a 25-16 lead after the first quarter as nondescript guys like Pablo Prigioni and newly signed big man Earl Barron got the start for the Knicks (54-28). Meanwhile, the Hawks, who were trying their very best to not put forth their best effort in a way to avoid a possible second-round matchup with the No. 1 seed Heat, trotted out such stalwarts like Mike Scott, John Jenkins and Shelvin Mack. A win for the No. 6 Hawks would’ve likely boosted their playoff position, so it was obvious from the start Hawks head coach Larry Drew wasn’t yearning to start his star big men Josh Smith and Al Horford.
Prigioni, Barron and Chris Copeland took advantage of the extended playing time, however, as they performed nicely. Prigioni, who was hurt in the waning moments of the first quarter with a sprained right ankle, finished with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal in the first quarter before bowing out for good. X-rays on the ankle were negative.
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said there was “absolutely” no reason to believe that Prigioni wouldn’t be ready for the Celtics on Saturday night, but acknowledged the ailments that plagued his already undermanned squad. The Knicks played just six players after Prigioni left for good.
“Tough game tonight. Iman [Shumpert] was mainly cramps. Cope’s [Chris Copeland] fine, although he had a helluva game. He’ll sleep good off of that tonight,” said Woodson. “Pablo could be day-to-day, but I have no reason to believe he won’t be available [Saturday night]. Earl Barron and Q [Quentin Richardson] were also just cramping up, but that’s more because they haven’t played much. … But overall, it was a good win and good effort all the way till the end.”
Barron, serving his second stint with the Knicks, tallied 11 points and a game-high 18 rebounds— including 11 boards in the first half — while Copeland added a career-high 33 points, including 18 points in the first. The performance by the journeyman Barron was especially impressive as he was added to the roster just hours before tip-off. Copeland, meanwhile, became the first Knicks rookie since Bill Cartwright in 1980 with back-to-back 30-point games.
Copeland, who banged his shoulder late in the game, said he’ll be fine, adding the career scoring night is a great way to ease his pain.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive. That’s what coach [Woodson] wanted out there to do, so I was just taking advantage of it all,” said Copeland, who added he’s tired after logging 41 minutes. “Guys were tired out there. It was a lot of minutes for just six players, but we got the win, kept fighting and it was a great way to end the season.”
Woodson also sounded particularly proud of the way his players battled— particularly Copeland.
“He’s been a real pleasant surprise. Dating back to the summer, we didn’t even know if he’d make the ball club. He just patiently sat and waited his turn. He’s gotten better, [because] the veterans around him have helped him, too,” said Woodson. “We knew he could score, but just not this. But, that being said, we still need him to think more about the other end [defense] though.”
The Hawks (44-38) were led by Jenkins, who had 20 points, including 12 points in the first half, and Scott, who also added 20 points, as the grueling regular season has finally ended for both teams.
Knicks notes …
» Carmelo Anthony sat out the game to rest his banged-up shoulder, but he still won the league’s scoring title with a 28.7 points per game average. Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant also sat out tonight’s game as he finished the season at 28.1 points per game. Woodson said he’s proud of his MVP candidate.
“He’s put a lot of time into this, since the Olympics experience all the way through this season. He never missed much of practices or the veteran camps and has been solid all across the board for this team. He’s the reason why we’re in this position we are today.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.