CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Knicks needed a big performance Friday night, and at least for one game, Andrea Bargnani provided hope that they not only can stay afloat without Tyson Chandler but flourish.
Starting at center for Chandler, who is out four to six weeks with a broken right leg, Bargnani had season highs of 25 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the Knicks' 101-91 victory over the Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena, snapping a three-game skid and spoiling Patrick Ewing's head-coaching debut for Charlotte.
"Andrea was great; he finally found his shot," Mike Woodson said. "I think he can do a lot of things to help us. He had five blocks tonight, eight rebounds. To me, that's solid. He can't tease me because I'm going to expect that from him every time he steps out on the floor."
Former Knicks center Ewing, a Hall of Famer, was Charlotte's acting coach after Steve Clifford was hospitalized and had two stents placed in his heart Friday. Ewing said he hopes Clifford will rejoin the team Sunday.
Before the game, Ewing admitted to being nervous. He ran into a desperate team that was looking to shake off some early-season struggles and took it out on the Bobcats.
After the Knicks lost to Charlotte on Tuesday night at the Garden, Carmelo Anthony called for a closed-door players-only meeting in which he said they need to play harder and believe in one another.
The Knicks (2-3) responded and Anthony backed up his own words, finishing with 28 points and eight rebounds, including five off the offensive glass.
The Knicks played with more urgency and passion than they had in the previous two games. They kept their turnovers low (12), knocked down their three-pointers (12-for-26) and didn't let up. They opened a 19-point lead in the third quarter and were up double-digits the last 20:37 of the game.
Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 25 points.
"We played like our backs were against the wall," Anthony said. "It was a must-win for us. This early in the season we're talking about must-wins, something obviously is going wrong. We corrected that."
Bargnani, the Knicks' big offseason acquisition, was a revelation. Woodson hadn't used the 7-footer much in the second half of the first four games because he's not a strong defensive player, but Friday night, he gave the Knicks a little of everything.
Bargnani sparked a 15-0 third-quarter run that blew open the game by scoring five points and blocking a shot. He ended up one block short of matching a career high, altered a few other shots, had three assists and pumped his fist after several of his shots, including a three-pointer that put the Knicks up 97-81 with 5:29 left.
"From day one, the coaches and my teammates are helping me a lot and they're trying to do their best to make the adjustment smooth," Bargnani said. "But I got to help them, don't be hesitant and just play my game, go out there and do what I've always done all these years. I got to be more aggressive on offense because that's what I do."
Woodson had been waiting for this. "I told our coaches [Friday] morning that hell, he needs to speak up, he's got to talk more and act like he's a part of this," Woodson said. "He was pretty good."
Ewing, an assistant coach with the Wizards, Rockets, Magic and now the Bobcats, has wanted the opportunity to be a head coach. But he didn't want his first time to be this way or against his old team.
"It is ironic that I played 15 years in New York and my first opportunity to be a head coach is against the Knicks," he said. "Once the game started, I was able to calm down and do my thing."
But Ewing's old team had no plans to make his debut a successful one. It's one night, but their new big fella finally made an impact, and not just with his offense.