ATLANTA - Nate Robinson yelled and screamed and punched the air and celebrated like crazy after hitting a three-pointer that gave him 10 points in overtime and 40 overall in his return to the court Friday night.
Mike D'Antoni didn't mind. He may have even smiled a little.
Robinson, in one of the greatest escapes from a coach's doghouse in NBA history, finished with 41 points - including 25 in the fourth quarter and OT - as the Knicks overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to shock the Hawks, 112-108.
The 5-9 guard hadn't seen action for 14 straight games and hadn't played since Dec. 1.
"He showed a lot of character,'' D'Antoni said of Robinson, whom the Hawks couldn't keep away from the hoop as he repeatedly beat them off the dribble. "Hung in there and took the medicine and did a heck of a job."
With the game tied at 101, Robinson scored the Knicks' final 11 points. They took a 112-105 lead before Joe Johnson hit a three-pointer with one second left.
Robinson had eight assists and six rebounds and shot 18-for-24 from the floor in 38:24. Said David Lee, "I was just happy to be on the same team, to get to root him on tonight. It was unreal."
A lot had happened since Robinson last stepped on an NBA court as more than a cheerleader. The year ended, and so did the decade. The Knicks went 8-6 without Robinson, and he was fined $25,000 for a trade request made by his agent.
All the while, Robinson kept (mostly) quiet and worked (mostly) hard, waiting for D'Antoni to once again covet his special brand of explosiveness and overlook his maddening mental lapses. On Friday, D'Antoni called on Robinson against the Hawks (21-11), and the energetic little man delivered off the bench in a huge way.
Robinson entered the game to replace Chris Duhon after a Knicks timeout with 3:01 to go in the first quarter. Oddly enough, when D'Antoni called for him to go in, Robinson didn't think it was him he was calling.
"When he called my name, I didn't hear,'' he said. "Coach, he has that accent. He says 'Nate,' sometimes it sounds like 'David.' I just stood there. Guys were like, 'You're in.' I was like, 'Oh.' "
The Knicks (13-20) tied the score at 97 with 38 seconds left on Robinson's basket. But Johnson hit a jumper over three Knicks before Robinson drove and scored with 11.3 seconds left to tie it again at 99.
Marvin Williams - whose three-pointer had given the Hawks an 89-75 lead with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter - missed a long three at the buzzer and the game went into OT.
With the score tied at 105, Robinson gave the Knicks their final lead with a drive and floater that ended with him sliding on the floor via a foul. Robinson hit the free throw for a 108-105 lead with 2:09 left and added a three-pointer with 1:32 to play.
Did Robinson learn anything by sitting for so long?
"It taught me a lot,'' he said. "It taught me how to be humble."
What did he think D'Antoni was trying to tell him by sitting him?
Said Robinson, "I have no idea."