NEW YORK — One night after failing to measure up in a battle for NBA supremacy, the best team in the west got back on its usual winning track against the league’s worst team, even if it had to survive some tense, late moments after a building an expected huge lead.
Storming back from a 26-point, third-quarter deficit, the New York Knicks got within five points of the Golden State Warriors with just over four minutes left, before losing, 106-92, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Bouncing back from an eight-point, Friday night road loss to the 42-9 Atlanta Hawks, the Warriors (40-9) became the second 40-win team in the NBA this season, one weekend before their star backcourt, known as the “Splash Brothers” — guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — will return to the Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to compete in the league’s All-Star festivities, Feb. 14-15.
Playing against Curry and Thompson, while representing the Eastern Conference in his own building, will be Knicks franchise star forward, Carmelo Anthony, who prior to tip-off, was presented with his All-Star jersey at midcourt by former Knick All-Stars Walt Frazier, Allan Houston and John Starks.
But resting his ailing knee after playing the night before in Brooklyn, Anthony was dressed in suit as he watched from one row behind his team’s bench, as the Knicks fell to a league-worst 10-41. He also saw New York fail to deny the first MSG win for rookie head coach Steve Kerr, who spurned the Knicks’ vacated coaching spot last summer to lead the Warriors instead.
For now, it’s clear that Kerr made the right choice, as underscored by Curry’s postgame comments, even in a 14-point road win.
“We hold ourselves to high standards and high expectations, so we are kind of disappointed with the way we played, especially with a -point lead,” Curry said. “It’s not taking anything away from the Knicks. They did a lot to get back in the game… [but] we feel that we could play better.”
That was especially true for Thompson, who was held to 16 points on cold 5-of-22 shooting, eight games after setting the all-time NBA record for points in a quarter (37) during a home win over Sacramento, on Jan. 23.
However, Curry, despite failing to record an assist for only the fourth time in his six-year career, made five of nine 3-pointers and scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, after teammate Draymond Green scored 16 of his 20 points (on 8-of-12 shooting) in the opening half.
Although things initially looked hopeful for Anthony’s teammates, Golden State quickly took control and never looked back, while overcoming an extended cold stretch for nearly two-thirds of the final quarter.
Center Jason Smith (14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds) scored six of the Knicks’ first eight points to help stake New York to a 10-5 lead less than three minutes in, but the Knicks missed their next seven shots and went scoreless for more than five minutes as the Warriors reeled off 15 straight points to lead , 20-10.
A 7-3 run brought New York to within 23-17, but another nine consecutive Golden State points (five from ex-Knick David Lee, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench) opened a 32-17 lead before a layup by reserve forward Amar’e Stoudemire (13 points, six rebounds) beat the first-quarter buzzer.
Starting the second period on a 12-3 spurt, the Warriors swelled their advantage to 42-22, on a Lee 3-point play three minutes into the quarter. Slightly earlier, forward Andre Iguodala (four points) scored on a fast break dunk to become the 10th Golden State player to score, just 13:48 into the game.
Up 42-26, the Warriors got four straight points from reserve center Marreese Speights (10 points) and six in a row from Green during a 12-4 spurt, to lead 54-30.
A 14-2 stretch sliced that margin in half, at 56-44, before a Curry 3-pointer 5.1 seconds before halftime gave Golden State eight first-half makes in 14 first-half tries from behind the arc, and a comfortable 64-48 lead at intermission.
Catching a from Curry pass at the foul line, Thompson tossed a lob to center Andrew Bogut (seven points), who finished with a one-handed dunk to extend the Warriors’ edge to 74-52, a little more than three minutes into the second half.
Moments later, Curry banked in a straight-away 3-pointer after getting fouled by reserve point guard Shane Larkin (11 points), to make it 77-54 (but he missed the ensuing free throw).
Held to just five first-half points on 1-of-8 shooting, Thompson caught fire to keep New York at a safe distance.
After a jumper by forward Lance Thomas (10 points) and a 3-pointer by guard Jose Calderon (nine points) trimmed the deficit to 77-59, nine points from Thompson keyed a 12-4 run to grow the Warriors’ lead to as much as 89-63, with 3:08 left in the third quarter.
Behind five points from Larkin and four from reserve guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10 points), the Knicks ended the period on an 11-2 spurt, to close within 91-74.
Down by 21 in the fourth, New York scored a dozen straight points — seven by guard Langston Galloway, who scored a team-high 15 points — to trigger a 16-1 run that sent the Garden crowd into a frenzy as New York got as close as 95-90, on a Larkin layup, with 4:20 to play.
But after reserve forward Quincy Acy (four points) missed a layup and follow attempt, Iguodala made it 98-90, with 3:27 left, when he stuffed home a follow off of a missed layup by forward Harrison Barnes (12 points). The bucket ended a string of 12 consecutive missed shots by Golden State, over a span of about 7½ minutes.
A 3-pointer by Barnes moved the lead to double digits for good, and a Curry trey extended the margin to 104-92, with 2:12 to go, effectively ending the Knicks’ comeback hopes.
“That was tough to watch,” said Kerr of the earlier drought. “We were horrible. The last three minutes, we decided to guard, we shut them down and avoided disaster. I will chalk this up to mental fatigue. Four games in five nights and going across the country, we were running out of energy with our brains and our hearts.”
On trying to get his own team to find more consistency, fellow rookie head coach, (New York’s Plan B, after negotiations with Kerr fell through) Derek Fisher, said, “We have to search for the ingredients that can turn us into that [type of] team for 48 minutes a game.”
Stoudemire added, “It’s tough to climb out of a hole, especially to a team like Golden State… that being said, we did fight back.”
Heading to Florida for their final two games before the All-Star break, the Knicks will play in Miami on Monday and Orlando on Wednesday.
Golden State will close out its current four-game road swing with games in Philadelphia and Minnesota on those nights, before Curry and Thompson can turn their attention to making a return trip to New York City, while competing among the game’s greats.
Curry (drafted seventh overall by the Warriors, one spot ahead of the Knicks, in 2009) and Thompson will each play for the West in the All-Star Game after participating in 3-point shootout.
“It’s going to be fun, Curry said. “Obviously, we have two games to take care of business. Once Thursday comes, we can enjoy the festivities of the weekend. I look forward to Sunday with my coaching staff and Klay being there as well. Having the game at the Garden is special, and to be an All-Star and taking the floor here is going to be special memory here for a long time, so I’m really looking forward to it.”