NEW YORK — New York Knicks fans had a dream that some day, they’d see their team win again.
After failing to win in their own building since before Thanksgiving, the Knicks (6-36) finally ended their franchise-long 16-game losing streak with a 99-92 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans (20-21), during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game at Madison Square Garden on Monday evening.
A win at last, a win at last! New York’s first in 38 days (since a Dec. 12 win in Boston) and the Knicks’ first at the Garden in 58 days (since a home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 22), although to some, it might have felt like New York’s first victory since Dr. King gave his famous speech in Washington D.C. in 1963.
Fueled by a game-high 24 points from Carmelo Anthony and a career-high 21 points from NBA Developmental League call-up Langston Galloway (playing in his fifth NBA game), the Knicks uncharacteristically jumped out to an 11-point, first-quarter edge and led the rest of the way, while holding off a late charge from the Pelicans, who were without injured starters Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
New Orleans got no sympathy from win-challenged New York, which due to its own injury woes, was forced to once again give significant time to a trio of players — Galloway (30:44) and forwards Lou Admundson (24:09) and Lance Thomas (22:04) — on 10-day contracts. While Thomas came off the bench, Galloway and Admundson were making their first NBA starts.
Although Admundson and Thomas (four points each) provided little in the box score, they added some grit and energy that the Knicks have sometimes lacked this season.
“If Langston, Lance and myself can bring some new energy, some positivity, I think that’s good, “Admundson said. “It’s a bunch of great guys here, good character guys. They want to win, they want to do the right things and play the right way. But when you lose that many games, it’s hard and you kind of let that negativity creep in. So if I can be a part of changing that, it’s great.”
Galloway, on his second 10-day contract, added both energy and production, prompting rookie head coach Derek Fisher to say of the 6-foot-2 guard, “I am not surprised… he is not afraid of the moment. That is what is special of a young player who is fighting to stay in this league.”
On whether the short contracts of Admundson and Thomas should be extended, Fisher offered some subtle, affirmative support, saying, “I’ve cast my vote. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Much earlier, guard Eric Gordon started the game on a personal 5-2 run (to give the Pelicans their largest lead), before the Knicks scored the next nine points — seven by Anthony — to lead for good, 11-5, just past the midpoint of opening quarter.
Five more points from Anthony gave him a dozen and pushed the margin to 18-9, before a driving layup by Thomas capped an 18-4 run that made it 20-9, as New Orleans was in the process of missing 12 of its first 14 shots from the field.
“We had a tough first quarter,” head coach Monty Williams said. “I thought that dug us a hole and we had to battle back the rest of the game.”
Finally heating up a bit, the Pelicans made three of their last five shots of the quarter to close the period on a 7-2 run and climb within 22-16.
That spurt was extended to 12-4 after New Orleans started the second quarter with five of the next seven points, to trim its deficit to 24-21.
New York responded with an 18-8 stretch to push its lead to 42-29. With the Knicks ahead by nine points, Galloway, who scored 11 of his 13 points while Anthony went scoreless in the second quarter, made three straight 3-pointers to help push New York’s advantage to 53-38, before a trey by guard Tyreke Evans (team-high 23 points) sliced the lead to 53-41 by halftime.
Six points by center Omer Asik (11 points, game-high 17 rebounds) keyed a 14-8 run at the start of the second half to cut the Knicks’ lead in half, at 61-55.
But New York took control again with a 17-8 spurt to swell the lead to 78-63, before New Orleans scored the final bucket of the period.
A long 3-pointer by starting forward Ryan Anderson (one of only three he made in 13 attempts) ended a 15-6 run to start the final quarter, as the Pelicans got within 84-78.
Reserve guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (11 points) drained a triple to increase the Knicks’ edge to 89-80, but an 8-2 New Orleans run cut that lead to 91-88, with 3:13 left.
Although Anthony missed a forced shot in the lane, through traffic, on the next trip, he did a good job to stay with the shot and tip in the follow to extend New York’s lead to 93-88, with 2:51 remaining.
Evans scored the next four points, making a pair of free throws and taking Anthony one-on-one for a tough layup to make it 93-92, with 1:55 left.
Reserve forward Quincy Poindexter (10 points) was hooked by Anthony on the next possession for an offensive foul, but Gordon missed a jumper and Anderson misfired on a 3-pointer on the Pelicans’ next trip.
Asik gave the Knicks a tremendous break when he fouled Admundson with only :00.2 left on the shot clock after a scramble in the lane ended with Admundson trying a desperation shot, while on the ground, that would never have hit the rim in time to avoid a shot clock violation.
With a new shot clock, Anthony, double-teamed on the right wing, found Calderon (who prior to the shot, was only 1-for-9, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range in the game) in the right corner for a clutch 3-pointer that moved New York’s lead to 96-92.
“I was having a tough night shooting wise,” Calderon said. “[Anthony] made the right pass and I was happy to be there and help the team win.”
Anderson missed a right-corner trey at the other end, leading to Anthony sinking one of two free throws, to make it 97-92, with 19.4 seconds to go.
A Gordon miss with 10.5 seconds left sealed a feeling the Knicks hadn’t experienced in a long while, before Anthony closed the scoring with two more foul shots, with 8.1 seconds left.
“We really didn’t think about how many games we lost,” Fisher said afterwards. “It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. We can only control today… I think guys felt good about their effort and every guy who touched the floor gave us something.”
Reflecting on his team finally getting back in the win column after an extended drought, Anthony said, “It feels good to experience that feeling once again… tonight, we came in here and handled our business. It [was] a tough situation. We’re human… it’s definitely emotional when you’re losing games like that. We’re sticking with it. Nobody’s walking around with their heads down… we came here to fight [tonight].”
Anderson noted of the Knicks, “At some point, they are going to win, they are going to break that streak. Nobody wants to be that team, but they had a great game.”
Now that the losing streak is finally over, the Knicks will next try to do something they’ve done only once this season, going back to their second and third games of the year — win multiple games in row — when New York travels to Philadelphia (just 2½ games ahead of the Knicks for the worst record in the Eastern Conference) on Wednesday.