NEW YORK -- On the day Jamal Crawford was demoted, his reputation in New York still went up.
Knicks coach Isiah Thomas put Quentin Richardson back into the starting lineup before the game and returned Crawford to the bench. The move figured to give New York a badly needed defensive boost after it allowed Charlotte to shoot 59 percent in a 126-110 loss on Friday.
Crawford had only two points heading into the final minutes, but he has been perhaps the Knicks' best clutch player during the past two seasons. He played the entire final period, making two of his three shots after going 1-of-8.
"Fourth quarter's the only time that matters," Crawford said. "Honestly, Isiah and I have a different relationship, so it wasn't like, 'I'm just going to take you out of the starting lineup.' He asked me what I thought about it and I said what's best for the team."
To the Knicks, that meant getting the ball to Crawford down the stretch. He has seven go-ahead baskets in the final 10 seconds since joining the team, and he gave New York the lead for good with a floater with 18 seconds to play.
"He's one of the best today in the NBA at it," forward David Lee said. "He finds a way to get in there and put up some kind of shot. We love having the ball in his hands and he does a great job."
Kevin Martin scored 30 points for Sacramento, on its longest skid since dropping the final seven games of the 1997-98 season. Shareef Abdur-Rahim had 25 and Ron Artest, playing in his hometown for the first time in nearly three years, finished with 12. He shot 4-of-15, missing a potential tying 3-pointer.
"It felt real good coming off but sometimes it just don't fall," Artest said. "I'm sure the next time in the situation again, I'm sure it'll go down. We had a chance to win. We're going to get it together."
With the Knicks trailing by three, Crawford banked in a shot with 1:07 remaining, then found Lee under the basket. Artest fouled Lee, who made both free throws to give New York a 96-95 lead with 37 seconds left.
Abdur-Rahim put the Kings ahead for the final time, but Crawford came right back with his go-ahead bucket. After a timeout, the Kings turned it over on an illegal screen, and were forced to foul Crawford. He made both to make it 100-97, then added another pair after Artest's miss.
"By him coming off the bench and starting this year, it's become an easy adjustment for him," Marbury said. "When he comes in the game, it takes him some time. He made the big shots, down the stretch he made the big free throws."
The weary Kings, who traveled overnight Saturday after losing at home, lost another close one. Three of the defeats during their skid, including Saturday's, came in overtime. Sacramento was only 19-of-28 (68 percent) from the foul line Monday.
"We got to the line 28 times but you've got to hit free throws," Kings coach Eric Musselman said. "We're one of the better free-throw percent shooting teams in the league, but we have not been down the stretch."
Sacramento led 27-23 after shooting 53 percent in the first quarter. But the Kings got sloppy when the Knicks extended their defense in the second, committing three turnovers to fuel a 9-0 spurt that gave New York a 34-28 lead. The Knicks led 49-47 at halftime after Channing Frye's 3-pointer as time expired.
The Kings had nine turnovers against six assists in the first half. Artest had two of his first three shots blocked and was 2-of-8 in 22 minutes.
Neither team led by more than five points in the third quarter, which ended with Sacramento ahead 76-75 after Martin's jumper with 22 seconds remaining.
- The Knicks improved to 16-5 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They had lost their previous two.
- The Kings had won two in a row at MSG after losing 17 of their previous 18.
- Because of his suspension for the brawl in Detroit and his trade last season from Indiana to Sacramento, Artest hadn't played at Madison Square Garden since Feb. 3, 2004, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.