The crowd screamed with delight once Garden announcer Mike Walczewski finally finished introducing the final guy set to hit the court, a moment that few thought was coming, given the gloomy prognosis.

Amar'e Stoudemire was back, playing through the laceration to his left hand he suffered when he punched a fire extinguisher case after the Knicks' Game 2 loss in Miami. He was a game-time decision, surprising even some of his teammates by taking the court, and wound up injecting the Knicks' offense with a much-needed boost of high octane.

Stoudemire had 20 points and 10 rebounds, hit a big free throw in the closing seconds and made a key defensive adjustment on the game's final play, helping the Knicks to an 89-87 win and forcing a Game 5 against the Heat.

"Tonight was a last-minute decision," said Stoudemire, whose hand was heavily protected. "My hand, it's been pretty severe over the last few days. So I've been doing a lot of stretching, a lot of icing to keep it down a little bit overnight, and today I really wanted to come out and play hard and play clean and see if we can get a win."

Stoudemire originally was listed as doubtful for Game 4 after Wednesday's surgery to repair a muscle in his hand. In fact, there were rumblings he was done for the rest of the series. But he resumed working out Friday, participating in two-man drills with either Jeremy Lin or Toney Douglas, and was upgraded to a game-time decision after Saturday's practice.

"The last few days, I've been practicing on it," he said, "seeing how it feels, creating these certain braces for me to see how it feels in practice. So two days ago, I had this particular brace on that felt OK. I was able to give it a little go . . . Saturday, I was able to give it a go again and was feeling better and better.

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"Today, I felt even better. So that's when I knew I was ready to play and laced up the Nikes and went out there and played."

Stoudemire, whose initial bucket came when he collected his own missed shot and thunderously slammed it home with 6:49 left in the first quarter, made one of two free throws with 14.8 seconds left to give the Knicks a two-point cushion. He also came up big on the game's final possession, switching off to pick up Dwyane Wade on a pick-and-roll and flushing him into the right corner rather than letting him get into the lane.

Not bad for someone who stunned his teammates by playing so soon after his mishap.

"He surprised me," Tyson Chandler said. "I didn't think he was going, and he played and he had a huge impact on the game, just him being out there, very vocal, energetic guy. It definitely uplifted the team."

"I really didn't feel like I have something to prove," Stoudemire said. "After losing Game 2, it wasn't a great feeling. My reaction wasn't the best reaction, and I had to be out for Game 3 because of the injury. So I wanted to do whatever I can to heal up as fast as I can, mainly for my teammates and secondly for all the fans that stuck with me."