Faced with the challenge of turning the Knicks back into the title contender they believe they are, Mike Woodson had said there would be only one true remedy to his team's problems.
"A win," he said, "might solve all of that."
Well, what the Knicks delivered Sunday night at the Garden wasn't pretty, nor was it convincing. But you can say this much with certainty: It was a win, one the Knicks say they desperately needed.
Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points and Amar'e Stoudemire added a season-high 22 off the bench, shooting 9-for-10, as the Knicks beat the 76ers, 99-93. Anthony shot only 6-for-18 from the field but made 16 of 18 free throws.
The Knicks ended their losing streak at a season-high four games. "Four losses, that will wake you up," Tyson Chandler said. "We just stopped the bleeding tonight. We had to get out of the slump we were in."
But that the final score was close was a frustrating subtext, considering the Knicks (33-20) had led by 20 points and seemed certain to pull away several times.
Jrue Holiday, who is quickly turning into a player who likes facing the Knicks, scored 30 as the 76ers (22-32) kept themselves in the game all night. The 76ers, who have lost five straight, were playing a back-to-back after facing the Heat at home Saturday night.
Before the game, 76ers coach Doug Collins predicted his team might be in for a rough night, saying he expected the Knicks' slump would make their veterans "very testy, very edgy, very defensive-minded."
Collins was proven right, especially midway through the third quarter. Tempers flared between Anthony, Chandler and 76ers center Spencer Hawes, resulting in a brief skirmish.
It started when Anthony and Hawes fought for position under the basket. Anthony grew frustrated after getting hit in the chest by Hawes' elbow, and he retaliated by smacking Hawes in the back of the neck. Angered, Hawes got into Anthony's face. Chandler rushed to his teammate's defense, shoving Hawes away and escalating matters. But the officials quickly got in the middle of everyone in front of the Knicks' bench, ending it there.
"I didn't mean to hit him," Anthony said. "It was just one of those days. I didn't mean to."
Woodson thought the on-court display of emotions might have been a result of the losing streak, but he stressed that Anthony has to get a handle on his emotions.
"I don't want to see guys get suspended or fined for throwing punches or anything of that nature," Woodson said. "When you lose four in a row, and we haven't done that very often, you are on edge a little bit. It is my job as the coach to relax [them]."
Anthony was given a flagrant foul, and Hawes and Chandler received technicals.
The Knicks had a 14-point lead at the point of the scuffle, down from 20 earlier in the quarter, and after the incident, the lead continued to shrink. Behind Holiday, the 76ers pulled to within nine (76-67) at the end of the third.
But Stoudemire, enjoying his best all-around game of the season, scored eight points as the Knicks began the fourth quarter on an 11-4 run, opening a 16-point lead. Although the 76ers refused to go away all night, pulling within five late, the Knicks kept their intensity and focus intact.
"Bottom line, we had to win," Woodson said. "This was a must win for us."