PHILADELPHIA -- The Knicks still have ground to make up to catch the 76ers, but they are serving notice that they're serious about contending for the Atlantic Division title -- if not more.
Playing stifling defense again, the Knicks beat Philadelphia, 82-79, last night to move within three games of the division leaders. It was the Knicks' fifth straight win since Mike Woodson became coach, and third against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. "I honestly believe they think that they can win every game now that they step on the floor," Woodson said.
The Knicks (23-24) are within two games of seventh-place Boston now. They also won the all-important tiebreaker over the Sixers. This was their last meeting and the Knicks won the season series, 2-1.
"When we play defense like this," Tyson Chandler added, "we can beat any team in the league."
The Knicks (23-24) played that defense to open the game, holding the Sixers without a field goal for the first 7:48. Philadelphia started 0-for-14. The Knicks also picked it up late, playing postseason-type of defense down the stretch.
After the Sixers erased a 12-point deficit and tied it at 63 with 8:28 left, the Knicks scored eight unanswered points and held Philadelphia to just eight points for more than eight minutes.
During that stretch, the Sixers went scoreless for 2:45 as the Knicks built a 78-71 lead with 26.1 seconds remaining. Overall, the Knicks held the Sixers to 38.7 percent shooting. Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said the Knicks can be a dangerous team in the playoffs. "The cream of the crop is Miami and Chicago, and I guarantee you Miami and Chicago sure don't want to see the New York Knicks at 7 or 8," Collins said. "I can tell you that."
Amar'e Stoudemire led the Knicks for the second straight game, scoring 21 points with nine rebounds. Stoudemire had a huge block on an Elton Brand dunk attempt with the Knicks up six and 4:12 left.
Jeremy Lin struggled, but had 16 of his 18 points in the fourth. He finished 4-for-17 from the field, but was 10-for-10 from the foul line, all in the final quarter. Lin scored the Knicks last eight points -- all on free throws -- in the last 1:03.
They won with Carmelo Anthony scoring just 10 points, on 5 of 15 shooting. He was just 1 of 8 in the second half and scored two points, but the Knicks locked down defensively.
"We're just enthused about how good we can be," Stoudemire said. "We know we can be a great team. It's just a matter of us staying together, putting the pieces together. If we continue to play at the pace we're playing we've got a legitimate shot to move up. Those guys in that locker room they just got to believe that they can do it."