NEW YORK — With single-digit temperatures and a sub-zero wind chill descending on New York City outside Madison Square Garden, several New York Knicks players were just as cold inside the world’s most famous arena, as Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Beno Udrih and Tim Hardaway, Jr. shot a combined 23.3 percent (7-for-30) from the floor on Tuesday night.
But not only was that quintet’s poor aim offset by an equal number of misfiring Detroit Pistons, the Knicks’ icy shooters were luckily bailed out by the hot hand of Carmelo Anthony during an 89-85 victory.
Nine of Anthony’s game-high 34 points (on 13-of-24 shooting) came in succession — on a trio of consecutive 3-pointers that broke a 49-all tie — during a run of 15 straight points that erased Detroit’s only second-half lead (49-47) and put the Knicks (12-22) up for good, during the middle part of the third quarter.
Anthony added another four points as New York completed a game-turning 20-3 run that extended its advantage to a game-high 69-52, with just under three minutes left in the period.
Only two other Knicks scored in double figures though, as the Pistons (14-21) eventually cut a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to just one in the final minute, until a key defensive stop at one end, and a big offensive rebound at the other by Anthony finally sealed the win for New York.
Starting point guard Raymond Felton — playing for just the second time in 14 games after overcoming hamstring and groin injuries — scored 12 points, on 4-of-9 shooting, while producing mixed results with team highs of six assists and four turnovers.
Forward Andrea Bargnani had 13 points, on 6-of-13 shooting, while adding a team-high 11 rebounds. Bargnani made four of his first five shots — all in the opening quarter — as the Knicks started 7-for-11 from the field and took a 16-8 lead.
However, New York missed 31 of its next 41 shots as Detroit, which closed to within 24-21 by the end of the first quarter, took a two-point lead on three different occasions in the second period, before an Anthony jumper and a blocked shot over the last seven seconds of the half kept the Knicks tied with the Pistons at 41-apeice by halftime.
The Knicks, who ended the 2013 portion of their season a disappointing 9-21 and just 4-12 at MSG, snapped a four-game home losing streak and won consecutive games overall for only the second time this season while winning for the third time in four games in 2014 (following a successful three-game Texas trip that New York nearly swept, while playing its best basketball of the season).
“We’re starting to have a little bit more fun out there,” Anthony said. “[We’re] trusting each other a lot more than we [had been], just believing in one another.”
Finishing only 33-for-81 (40.7 percent) from the field, the Knicks also won for just the fourth time in 24 games this season while shooting under 45 percent.
Forward Josh Smith led the Pistons with 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting (while grabbing a dozen rebounds), and was complemented by 19 points (on 8-of-15 shooting) and seven boards from fellow forward Greg Monroe.
Center Andre Drummond made half of his eight shots and scored 12 points, while pulling down a game-high 17 rebounds, to help Detroit to a sizeable 54-38 edge on the glass. And forward Kyle Singler also chipped in with 11 points of 5-of-12 shooting off the bench.
Yet collectively, the Pistons made only 32 of 86 shots (37.2 percent), including just 3 of 19 (15.8 percent) from 3-point range, as their starting backcourt of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (two points on 1-of-6 shooting) and leading scorer Brandon Jennings (five points on 2-of-12 shooting) comprised two-fifths of a group that shot just 9-for-37 (24.3 percent).
Jennings, Detroit’s leading scorer, was held in check by Shumpert, who despite making just two of eight shots, contributed six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
After Detroit (which trailed, 73-58, entering the final quarter), committed 15 of the game’s 20 turnovers over the first three periods, the turnover margin drastically swung 8-1 in the Pistons’ favor during the fourth quarter.
“We got stale and stagnant,” head coach Mike Woodson said of his team’s offense. “Some of the play calls that we made, we just didn’t get into them quick enough. I don’t know if it was fatigue at the end or what. We just looked very lethargic coming down the stretch. But the good thing is, we were able to secure the win.”
A Singler 3-pointer capped a 15-4 run over 5:20, that pulled Detroit to within 83-80, with 3:21 remaining, but 1:10 later, Anthony made the New York’s last field goal — a trey that doubled the Knicks’ lead to 86-80.
Josh Smith answered that shot with a 3-pointer, and two Pistons free throws in four attempts trimmed New York’s edge to just 86-85, with 46 seconds left.
Trying to drive the lane, Anthony was called for an offensive foul, but he redeemed himself with some smothering defense that caused Josh Smith to send a 17-foot jumper from the right wing only about 13 feet in the air, before Anthony rebounded the ball with 7.2 seconds to go.
Felton was then fouled, but he missed the second of two free throws with the Knicks up, 87-85. Anthony secured an offensive rebound, though, and made two free throws with 2.9 seconds left, to end some nervous moments for the Garden crowd.
New York’s win kicked off a crucial stretch during which the Knicks will play 13 of 17 games at home. The defending NBA champion Miami Heat (27-8) will visit MSG next, on Thursday night.
To extend their modest winning streak to a season-high three games, the Knicks will have to play with a far greater sense of urgency than they did after their last winning streak, in early December. Back then, New York followed wins of 38 points in Brooklyn and 30 points against Orlando, with a 41-point home loss to Boston.
“Is that who we play next? I did not know,” said Anthony, to media members who responded with laughter, since Anthony (seemingly downplaying the matchup) normally knows the upcoming schedule very well. “We’ve got to face them some way, somehow… When do we play [them]? Thursday? We can’t run from them. I think we’re getting better each day. [Miami] is playing well. We’ve got to lace our sneakers up come Thursday.”
Woodson added that although the victory wasn’t a thing of beauty, “A win’s a win, and we’ll take it and we’ve just got to build on it from here and get ready for Miami.”