ATLANTA - The Knicks got off to a good start last night, but it was more important that they finished strong, and they did.

After squandering a 17-point first-half lead, the Knicks regained control of the game with a 20-4 fourth-quarter run and defeated the Hawks, 95-91, Wednesday night at Philips Arena.

It was an impressive late-game effort that helped the Knicks rebound from Sunday's embarrassing 31-point home loss to the Spurs.

"It was a great way to kind of get back on track,'' Carmelo Anthony said after leading the Knicks with 25 points. "We came through as a team, pulled it out, much better effort than we put forth in that San Antonio game. I'm glad to see we responded in a good fashion and put that game behind us.''

The Knicks overcame a 78-72 fourth-quarter deficit and another night when they had major problems defending a quick point guard and injured center Tyson Chandler's presence was missed inside.

Jeff Teague got wherever he wanted on the court and Atlanta held a 56-28 advantage in points in the paint. But the Knicks clamped down in the fourth to improve to 3-4.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Andrea Bargnani had his first double-double as a Knick, getting 20 points and 11 rebounds, and scored 10 in the fourth.

"We need that,'' Anthony said. "He was big time.''

It allowed the Knicks to make good Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan's reported "guarantee'' that they would win their next game. Dolan said that Sunday night during a Manhattan show with his band JD and the Straight Shot.

"When I heard it I was like, 'Oh damn, that's more pressure,' '' J.R. Smith said. "But that's a good thing. I think any owner that's enthused on his team and wants the input on his team, that's a great thing.''

Now the Knicks have to show they can play like this at home, where they have lost three straight and were booed in each of them. The Rockets and Jeremy Lin visit the Garden tonight.

Mike Woodson hopes he fixed the Knicks' early-game issues. He inserted Smith, last season's Sixth Man of the Year, with the first unit, and he scored nine of his 12 points in the first quarter. It was only the third time all season the Knicks led after one.

Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. gave the Knicks a big lift off the bench, scoring 14 points. Iman Shumpert, the subject of trade talks recently, had a key block and steal in the fourth, and dished out nine assists.

Teague's 25 points were high for Atlanta (4-4). Al Horford shot 11-for-14 and scored 23 points.

The Knicks built a 17-point edge in the second quarter and were up 10 at halftime. But their lead disappeared with Horford and Teague dominating the third. The Knicks shot 5-for-25, were outscored 23-10 and trailed 68-65 heading to the fourth.

"That third quarter was a disaster,'' Woodson said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The Hawks enjoyed a 23-point swing and led 78-72 after a Kyle Korver three with 8:33 left. But the Knicks answered with 11 straight points. Anthony scored six and Bargnani drilled a three-pointer to make it 83-78 with 5:49 to go.

The Knicks didn't let the momentum go this time. Back-to-back baskets by Raymond Felton, who was torched most of the night by Teague, put the Knicks up 87-80 with 4:32 to go. Bargnani banked in a three with 2:45 left and hit a short jumper 30 seconds later to make it 92-82.

"I thought we locked in, we didn't give as many layups in that fourth quarter and then we made shots,'' Woodson said. "We're going to hang in there and keep fighting, I promise you that.''