The triangle offense has become more of an emphasis again for the Knicks, but with the game on the line Saturday night, it was Carmelo Anthony’s clutch one-on-one play that carried them down the stretch.
Anthony scored 37 points and hit the game-winning basket with three-tenths of a second left to lift the Knicks over the 76ers, 110-109, at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks had squandered a 17-point lead and trailed by one after Jahlil Okafor scored inside with nine seconds left.
Out of the timeout, Derrick Rose had the ball and passed to Anthony on the left wing. Anthony used a jab step on Robert Covington, got to the baseline and created enough space on Covington to drill the deciding baseline jumper.
The look on Anthony’s face afterward was more anger than relief, but in the end he was happy.
“I was satisfied with that shot,” he said. “But the way that we closed the game out, we can’t let that happen. It came down to me making that shot when it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
If the Knicks (24-35) had lost this game, they would have fallen behind the 76ers and into 13th place. The Knicks have visions of jumping over four teams — improbable as it may be — to make the playoffs. The odds of jumping over five teams with 23 games left would be minuscule.
But Anthony, who shot 15-for-25, saved the Knicks. He scored their only two baskets in the final 90 seconds of the game. He missed a dunk in crunch time but more than made up for it with the game-winner.
Rose scored 18 points and Justin Holiday had 14. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.
Okafor finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds and Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the 76ers, who were without their best player, Joel Embiid, because of a contused left knee.
Jeff Hornacek said before the game that the Knicks are running Phil Jackson’s offense of choice much more frequently than they had at any point this season. He said he felt it would help them find better balance defensively as well as offensively.
Anthony had no problem finding his shots, but he rarely has trouble scoring no matter the offense. He scored 32 points through three quarters. And on the final few plays, the Knicks used Anthony in the way he’s at his best — in isolation.
This game was eerily similar to one in Philadelphia last month in which the Knicks blew a 17-point first-half advantage and 10-point lead with 2:29 remaining in the game. They lost at the buzzer on T.J. McConnell’s baseline jumper over Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony — and they came dangerously close to letting that happen again Saturday night.
The Knicks led by 17 in the third quarter and were up by 14 early in the fourth quarter and by 12 with 4:46 left. But they needed Anthony’s heroics at the end.
“We got to do a better job of closing games out,” Courtney Lee said. “We let them back in the game, same fashion as at their place. Luckily, we had the last shot and Melo came through for us.”
Philadelphia scored nine consecutive points, moving within 103-100 on two foul shots by Okafor with 2:26 left. On the previous Knicks possession, Anthony flubbed a dunk.
Rose ended the Knicks’ 3:12 drought with a floater to put the Knicks up five with 2:14 left. After McConnell scored, Kyle O’Quinn hit one of two free throws to make it 106-102. But the Knicks gave up a wide-open three-pointer by McConnell that made it a one-point game.
Anthony scored on a pull-up jumper to give the Knicks a 108-105 lead with 1:04 left. Okafor cut it to one again with a basket inside. After Lance Thomas turned it over, a wild sequence that included a blocked shot by O’Quinn ended with Okafor scoring inside again to give the 76ers their first lead since the 2:41 mark of the first quarter.
The Knicks had one more shot, and Anthony in isolation delivered. On the final play, Dario Saric’s side out-of-bounds pass at the basket was intercepted by O’Quinn.
“It was a similar situation as the first time we played them in Philly,” Anthony said. “The only thing was the roles were reversed this time. Instead of them making the shot, I made the shot.”