MILWAUKEE -- The Knicks improved their chances of making the playoffs Wednesday night, playing inspired basketball in what was easily their most important game this season.
If they play their final eight games with the determination and focus they showed down the stretch of their 111-107 victory over the Bucks at the Bradley Center, the Knicks will be in the postseason for the second season in a row.
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The Knicks had some big efforts and made some humongous plays with the game on the line, erasing an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit and outscoring Milwaukee 25-13 over the final 8:36.
The result was the Knicks (30-28) opened up a two-game lead on Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. They're just one-game behind seventh-place Philadelphia. The win also tied the season series with the Bucks at 2. Conference record is the next tiebreaker, and the Knicks have a 11/2-game lead on Milwaukee in that race.
"This probably was the biggest win we had thus far this season," Carmelo Anthony. "Just from how important it was, the way we won, gutted it out, the way we responded, the way we buckled down on the defensive end and won this game."
Anthony hurt his right wrist in the first half and a few of the fingers on his left hand went numb. But he gutted it out and led the Knicks with 32 points. Tyson Chandler was perfect from the field (6-for-6) and foul line (7-for-7) and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. J.R. Smith added 14 points, including a three-pointer that put the Knicks up for good at 108-107 with 1:04 left.
After the Knicks lost in Chicago Tuesday, Chandler and Anthony called this game a "must-win." Chandler said the Knicks needed "to approach it like it's a Game 7 playoff game." They treated it that way.
The Knicks built a 14-point first-half lead and after falling behind by eight in the fourth they played with a sense of urgency.
In the intense game that had the back-and-forth of a postseason contest, the Bucks took a 105-103 lead on an Ellis' three with 1:45 left. Anthony answered with a jump shot from the right elbow that tied it.
After Luc Mbah a Moute scored inside, Smith gave the Knicks a one-point lead with his clutch three. The Bucks missed three times on their next trip and the Knicks finally got possession and Steve Novak was fouled with 19.4 seconds left. He hit both free throws to make it 110-107.
On the biggest defensive possession of the Knicks' season, they forced Brandon Jennings into missing a three with 9.9 seconds left. Iman Shumpert rebounded and was fouled, and he made one free throw with nine seconds left to make it a four-point game. "We knew this was a playoff-type game," Chandler said. "I told my teammates this was a do-or-die game. I'm proud of my teammates, the way we responded."
The Knicks' likely will need a strong finish to outlast the Bucks or 76ers and make the playoffs for the second straight season. And the Knicks' have some tough games left. They still have home games against the Heat, Celtics and Clippers and a road contest in Atlanta.
Philadelphia only has three games left against teams above .500, but end the season on a five-game road trip. The Bucks play four of their last eight on the road, and have four against teams with winning records.
But the Knicks know they control their own destiny.
"We feel good about ourselves, we feel good about this win, especially a road win against a team that's right there behind us," Anthony said.