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Carmelo Anthony scores 34 as Knicks hold on for win over Pistons

Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin and Iman

Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin and Iman Shumpert of the Knicks celebrate after a play late in a game against the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 7, 2014) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks returned home Tuesday night from a (mostly) triumphant three-game swing through Texas that offered fans hope the team had turned a corner after an awful start.

Maybe it has, but it's still too soon to tell for sure after a harrowing 89-85 win over Detroit.

Still, a victory it was -- the Knicks' first at Madison Square Garden since Dec. 14 and only their fifth in 17 home games -- and it made them 3-1 this year.

"It's a new year,'' Raymond Felton said when it was over. "It's 2014.''

The clock might strike midnight when the Heat visits Thursday, but for now, the Knicks happily will take what they have gotten so far, and hope change is in the air.

"I think with all the losing, everyone came closer together,'' Iman Shumpert said.

After a sluggish first half left the score tied at 41, the Knicks (12-22) built a 17-point lead late in the third behind a 15-0 run and a 13-point quarter from Carmelo Anthony, including 3-for-3 on three-pointers.

"When he's shooting the ball like that, he's probably the toughest person in the league to guard,'' J.R. Smith said.

Said Anthony, "Coming out of halftime, we said we needed one run to separate ourselves.'' The separation proved fleeting.

The Pistons (14-21) shaved the lead relentlessly and drew within 86-85 when Charlie Villanueva made one of two free throws with 46 seconds left.

"We got stale and stagnant,'' coach Mike Woodson said. "The ball didn't move freely. Some of the play calls that we made, we just didn't get into them quick enough. I don't know if it was fatigue or what.''

Anthony, who had 34 points and shot 6-for-7 on threes, held the ball on the ensuing possession, then was called for an offensive foul as he drove awkwardly with the shot clock winding down and 27.1 seconds left.

But the Knicks were saved when Josh Smith (21 points) shot an air ball with 6.7 seconds left.

"I'm still beating myself up because I could have been more aggressive and put it on the referees to make a call,'' Smith said. "That shot will be with me until the next game.''

Felton made the first of two free throws with 6.0 seconds left to put the Knicks up 87-85. He missed the second, but the ball bounded to Kenyon Martin, who tipped it to Anthony, who was fouled. He made two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to ice it.

Andrea Bargnani had 13 points and 11 rebounds, picking up some of the slack from center Tyson Chandler, who missed the game due to illness.

Felton had 12 points, six assists and four turnovers, including two late as he battled fatigue in his first game since suffering a groin injury Dec. 23. The point guard admitted he was tired down the stretch but said: "I'm just glad we showed the grit. Early on in the season, we were losing these types of games.''

Said Anthony: "We're starting to have a little bit more fun out there, trusting each other a lot more than we have. When it comes down to situations, it feels like we're all on the same page.''

Woodson acknowledged the team's ongoing flaws, but said: "Sometimes it becomes a little contagious . . . You win a few close games and you remember how you won them.''

Check back Thursday.

"We have to play them,'' Anthony said of the two-time defending champion Heat. "We can't run from them. We're getting better each day . . . We have to lace up our sneakers like they do come Thursday.''

New York Sports