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Carmelo, Billups lead Knicks over Nets

Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks celebrates during the game against the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden. (March 30, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Chauncey Billups felt it was time to speak up. The Knicks Wednesday night trudged to the locker room under a chorus of boos from the Garden crowd, looking like the lottery-bound team at halftime after giving up 68 points to yet another of the league's lowest-scoring teams.

"Come on, 68 points to a team that played ?" Billups said of the halftime score that had the Knicks down by 10. "We're supposed to be fresh. This is a big game for us. We've got a lot to lose, they don't. They just looked like they wanted it more than we did."

Spurred by the veteran's words, the Knicks then emerged with playoff-like intensity to will themselves to a 120-116 win over the Nets. "It wasn't crazy, but it was vocal," Billups said of his message. "It was just matter-of-fact. That is just unacceptable for a team that is supposed to be trying to get better. How can you even know if you improve if you don't do what you say you're going to do?"

Message received. Carmelo Anthony, who before the game called it another must-win, exploded with 20 points in the third quarter to spark the Knicks' comeback. Anthony finished with 39 points, his third straight 30-plus game, but he lost the touch after he returned from his usual rest period early in the fourth and managed just two points on 1-for-5 shooting in the final quarter. His final miss, a jumper with 13.9 seconds left and the Knicks ahead 118-116, gave the Nets one last chance.

But Deron Williams missed a 17-footer with 4.9 seconds left and Billups came up with the most important play of the game -- the rebound -- and then hit two free throws to seal the win.

Billups had 19 of his 33 points in the second half for the Knicks (37-38), who reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to three.

It was the second time since the trade (March 7 against the Jazz) that two of the Knicks' Big Three had 30 points each in the game. Anthony also had 10 rebounds and five assists.

Amar'e Stoudemire had 23 points, shooting 10-for-15, but recorded just one rebound in 30 minutes. No other Knick scored in double figures.

Williams had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Nets (23-51), who were led by Anthony Morrow's 30 points and 26 points and nine rebounds from Brook Lopez.

The Knicks led 118-114 with 42.5 seconds left on a pair of Toney Douglas free throws, but Kris Humphries (15 points, 14 rebounds) scored on a tip with 31.7 seconds left to bring the Nets back within two.

"We thought it was a very winnable game coming in," Lopez said. "We gave it a great effort and sadly let them come back. But, you know what? We fought to the very end."

Nets coach Avery Johnson was promoting it as the biggest game of the season for the Nets. It was their chance to embarrass the Knicks on their home court before a national audience on ESPN. They even threw Williams, who would otherwise be shut down for the season with a strained right wrist, back into the lineup.

But with a playoff berth still waiting to be claimed, the Knicks should have a lot more to play for than a fabricated rivalry that has, so far, only existed on billboards and in dueling trade negotiations.

Said Anthony earlier in the day: "It's the biggest game of our season, too."

New York Sports