With the right performers, there is no place that generates electricity like the Garden. Exhibit A came in the form of the Knicks' thrilling 109-104 win over the Nuggets last night, which had the building roaring at a playoff pitch.
Center stage was a terrific head-to-head battle between Carmelo Anthony and Danilo Gallinari, who exchanged baskets on four consecutive possessions in the third quarter and got into some trash-talking.
Did Gallinari use any Italian? Did Anthony, who is Puerto Rican, respond with any Spanish?
"No, it was just slang, English,'' Gallinari said with a grin. "I was talking slang, too.''
Afterward, the two exchanged handshakes and Anthony told the 21-year-old Italian to "keep ballin'.''
"It was kind of fun for me to see him hold his ground and not back down,'' said Anthony, who scored 36 points. "He was kind of talking back to me out there, too. I was kind of surprised.''
Anthony said he told Gallinari he was "watching him from afar. I love what he's doing. Just keep working. He's gotten a lot better from when he first came in . . . he's turned it on big time.''
Gallinari had 24 of his 28 points in the second half, including 17 in that entertaining third quarter against Anthony, who had 12 of his 36 points in the period. But Anthony came up short on two drives down the stretch, and Gallinari hit 4 of 4 from the line - including a pair with 18.1 seconds left - to seal the win for the Knicks (26-45).
The Nuggets (47-24) were playing without coach George Karl, who is getting treatment for throat cancer.
Anthony drilled a long-range jumper with 5:46 left in the third to give the Nuggets a 66-65 lead. Then Gallinari answered with a three to put the Knicks up 68-66 with 5:33 left. Anthony followed with another long jumper to make it 68-all with 5:17 left. Gallinari then drove, drew a foul on Joey Graham and hit both free throws for a 70-68 lead with 5:05 left in the quarter.
"That right there,'' said Tracy McGrady, who had 15 points in 29:48, "was great basketball to watch.''
Other players got involved at that point, but an energized Gallinari, who started the game 0-for-5, was riding one heck of a wave. He nailed two more three-pointers, roaring and pumping his fist to the crowd, before the quarter ended to help the Knicks take an 83-74 lead into the fourth.
"That's the moment that you play basketball for,'' Gallinari said. "That was a great moment and for me, as a player, and everybody, that was fun.''
J.R. Smith hit a three-pointer with 1:21 left to cut the Knicks' lead to 105-104, and then Al Harrington (23 points) lost the ball to give possession back to Denver. But Anthony missed on a drive with 41.4 seconds left. Toney Douglas hit a pull-up with 27.8 left to make it 107-104, and Anthony once again came up short on a drive with 23.9 left.
Notes & quotes: Eddy Curry might practice Thursday to see if he may be available to play in the upcoming five-game road trip . . . Eddie House (sore right Achilles) is expected to be back in the lineup for Friday's game in Phoenix.