All season long, Amar'e Stoudemire had been treated like an old man. Pundits and fans repeatedly questioned if he had anything left in him. And until Wednesday night, he wasn't allowed to play on consecutive nights.
But Wednesday night, when the Knicks needed someone other than Carmelo Anthony to produce some offense and save them from blowing a 23-point lead to the Bulls, it was Stoudemire who came up with an 18-foot jumper to key an 83-78 win at Madison Square Garden.
"It was great to be out there playing in a desperation game, down the stretch," said Stoudemire, who played a season-high 30 minutes. "It feels good to be back on the court, tell you that much. A lot of hard work has been put into this year to get into top shape and it's paying off."
Stoudemire made 7 of 11 shots from the field and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Considering that Stoudemire played 27 minutes in a loss at Cleveland on Tuesday night, fans might have expected him to look exhausted late in this game. Instead, he was the most active player on the court.
With the Bulls defense swarming Anthony, Stoudemire hit a jumper to give the Knicks a 76-74 lead. He then grabbed a defensive rebound on the Bulls next possession and caused Marquis Teague to miss a layup attempt on a possession after that.
"Amar'e stepped up big," said Anthony, who led the Knicks with 30 points and 10 rebounds. "The last couple of nights Amar'e's been stepping up big time, giving us another option we can go to offensively. Defensively he's been stepping up taking the challenge out there. And we've been having his back defensively. We just want him to continue getting better. We got to help him get better. We got to build together."
Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who has come under fire as the Knicks lost 11 of their last 13 games heading into Wednesday night, seemed relieved to get a big game out of Stoudemire.
"This is the longest I have been able to play him. He looked really good tonight," Woodson said. "He has come a long way since the beginning of the season. His minutes are starting to grow and we are starting to benefit from that."
Amar'e said he expected to play again in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday.
"My body feels great. On a back to back, that's a great sign," Stoudemire said. "I'm getting back into a rhythm, getting back to my old self, my confidence is starting to rise a little more . . . My teammates are starting to get a rhythm, understand how we play the game . . . "As a team, we're starting to figure one another out, and tonight it showed."