The Knicks opened what they believe will be a magical season by letting a huge lead vanish. But with the game on the line and the Garden fans at the edge of their seats, the Knicks' two All-Stars elevated their games.
Carmelo Anthony hit big baskets down the stretch, and an energized Tyson Chandler made huge plays on both ends Wednesday night to lead the Knicks to a 90-83 victory over the Bucks.
"I thought we made every defensive play we needed to make,'' Mike Woodson said. "Tyson was huge coming down the stretch, with the blocks and finishing at the rim. We had to have that to secure the win.''
The Knicks were up 25 at the half, but sloppy, careless play led to being down one with the clock approaching the 2:30 mark. Anthony scored on back-to-back trips, and Chandler seemed to be everywhere. He had a stick-back dunk, a steal and a block in the last 2:36. He had three dunks in fourth, all in the final 5:45.
"I just wanted to play with energy,'' Chandler said. "At that point, I knew my team needed something on both ends. I was trying to provide big plays.''
Anthony had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Raymond Felton scored 18. Iman Shumpert had 16 points and Chandler 10. Felton re-aggravated his left hamstring but returned to the game, and said he expected to play Thursday night against Derrick Rose's Bulls.
Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks' big offseason pickup, missed his first four shots and heard groans. He was 3-for-9 with six points and two rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
Gary Neal scored 16 points for the Bucks. O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia each had 13.
This would have been a devastating loss that would have given the Knicks' doubters fuel. The Knicks committed 14 second-half turnovers, including nine in the fourth, and trailed 81-80 with 3:17 left. But they held the Bucks to two points the rest of the way.
Chandler put the Knicks back on top with a follow dunk with 2:36 left. After a Milwaukee miss, Anthony tipped in a miss to make it 84-81. After a Bucks turnover, Anthony drilled a jumper, for an 86-81 lead with 1:14 left.
Mayo made it 86-83 with a long jumper before Felton tossed a lob that Chandler threw down. Moments later, Chandler swatted rookie point guard Nate Wolters, leading to a Felton layup.
"We kind of let our foot off the gas in the third quarter,'' Anthony said. "We responded, everybody, everybody responded.''
The Knicks think they'll be a dangerous team, but right now they're in flux. J.R. Smith is suspended five games for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy. Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin are on a platoon system. Martin played Wednesday night. It's Stoudemire's turn Thursday night.
Woodson started small with two point guards and Anthony at power forward -- like last year. Bargnani started at power forward throughout the preseason. Woodson said he changed because Milwaukee started small, and that he'll start bigger against the Bulls.
The small lineup spearheaded a 32-10 second-quarter run. But the Knicks squandered the huge cushion before that lineup pulled out the win led by Anthony and Chandler.
"You want to put teams away, especially when you're going back-to-back so we have an opportunity to rest,'' Chandler said. "But at the end of the day it's a learning experience. I'd rather learn with a win than to learn with a loss.''