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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Melo, Amar'e provide some reason for hope

Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony of the New

Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks look on in the first quarter against the Miami Heat. (May 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

For one fine day, Knicks fans at least enjoyed some postseason excitement, complete with postgame streamers to punctuate the collective sigh of relief.

But they also got something more important than the temporary thrill of seeing their team end the longest playoff losing streak in the history of the NBA. They got hope.

It came from watching the pillars on which the Knicks' latest experiment in star power is built play well -- and play well together in an 89-87 victory over the Heat to avoid elimination in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

Carmelo Anthony answered deserved criticism of his postseason track record with 41 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Amar'e Stoudemire answered deserved criticism for ripping open his left hand in a post-Game 2 temper tantrum with 20 points and 10 rebounds despite being limited to 34 minutes by early foul trouble.

After accounting for 68.5 percent of the Knicks' scoring, they appeared for a news conference side by side, just as the Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did last season.

Stoudemire wore a black hat on his head, a sling on his left arm and a smile on his face.

"I think it's the first of many,'' he said, referring to his first playoff victory in two seasons as a Knick and the first the team has secured since April 29, 2001.

For that to happen, Anthony and Stoudemire must do what they rarely have done in 14 months together but did consistently in Game 4: Look as though they can coexist.

It was not always smooth, in part because Stoudemire played only 10 minutes in the first half, in part because the game sputtered along as 55 fouls were called, in part because both teams struggled to find their outside shots.

Still, when it counted, it clicked. That is a long way from assuming it can continue in 2012-13 after the Knicks sort out their coaching and backcourt situations. But with this series probably a lost cause, this was about at least giving the Knicks and their fans something to believe in moving forward.

Anthony risked losing the city's faith with his struggles through three games, but he won it back with a splendid outing, capped by a three-pointer with 54.5 seconds left to give the Knicks an 87-84 lead.

He allowed the Heat back into the game by making only one of three free throws with 25.9 seconds left, but the Knicks held on, barely, when Stoudemire steered Wade away from the lane in the final seconds and the Heat star missed a three-point attempt from the right corner.

Afterward, coach Mike Woodson said this about Anthony: "He wasn't ready to go home; he just balled.''

Did coming through after all the criticism make the victory more satisfying? Anthony would not bite on that story line.

"When I'm out there on that court, I don't think about 'what's my record in the playoffs?' '' he said.

That's probably a wise approach. Nevertheless, most people watching in person or on TV were thinking about that, as well as about the team's playoff drought in general -- and perhaps, too, about avoiding the indignity of seeing James and his friends celebrate on the Garden floor.

The past five times the Knicks have been eliminated, dating to the 1999 NBA Finals, it has happened at home.

There surely will be those who make fun of the Knicks for overdoing it with streamers for a victory that merely avoided a third consecutive first-round sweep dating to 2004. Fair enough.

But given what has come before in this season and this series, watching Stat and Melo perform in harmony was worth a celebration.

New York Sports