A little more effort, and a lot of Carmelo Anthony sent New Jersey home disappointed.
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Anthony scored 39 points for the second successive game, including the tiebreaking jumper with 1:08 left, and the Knicks rallied from a 16-point deficit for a 120-116 victory on Wednesday night.
Chauncey Billups added 33 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Amar'e Stoudemire scored 23 points for the Knicks, who have won two in a row after a six-game losing streak and trimmed their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three. They also climbed within two games of Philadelphia for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
After surrendering 68 points in the first half to a team that was blown out a night earlier, the Knicks came into the locker room and decided their effort, as Billups said, was "unacceptable."
"This was 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 and we talked about that," Billups said. "We came out immediately in the second half and just kind of turned the tide, momentum kind of went our way."
Anthony scored only two points in the fourth quarter after a 20-point third, but it was the basket the Knicks needed in the first meeting since they beat out the Nets in the race to acquire the All-Star forward.
Deron Williams had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his return from a six-game absence with an injured wrist, but was short on a potential tying jumper in the final seconds and appeared hurt again after going down trying to chase down his miss.
"I thought he was off a little bit, but man, he made some big plays for us," Nets coach Avery Johnson said. "Big shots, timely 3s, good assists. But you could see there at the end, maybe he just ran out of gas a little bit."
Anthony Morrow scored a season-high 30 points to lead the Nets. Brook Lopez added 26 points and Kris Humphries finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, but New Jersey came up short in a game it desperately wanted to win.
With the Nets making their first national TV appearance since the 2007-08 season in the ESPN contest and facing their closest rival, guard Sasha Vujacic on Tuesday said the game was "probably the biggest of the season."
"I heard Vujacic already say this is the biggest game of their season so far, so it's the biggest one of our season, too, Vujacic," Anthony said after the Knicks' morning shootaround.
Anthony again called it a "must win," just as he had before a victory Monday against Orlando. And he again also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Knicks, who got big contributions in the fourth quarter from Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter, who came with Anthony and Billups in the trade from Denver.
Anthony, who also scored 36 on Saturday, became the third player in the NBA this season to score 35 points in three consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"It feels good, especially right now, the time that it's happening," Anthony said. "Must-win situations, games that we really need coming down the stretch, getting into the playoffs, it's almost perfect timing for me to get into a groove like that."
Deron Williams followed a bucket by Lopez by converting a three-point play to tie it at 107, and after a jumper by Carter, Williams knocked down another jumper before adding another three-point play to give the Nets a 112-109 lead with 3:28 remaining.
Billups made three free throws to tie it at 114 before Anthony's only basket of the fourth quarter, a short pull-up jumper, put the Knicks back ahead 116-114 with 1:08 to play. Lopez missed a short jumper, and the Nets missed a chance to retain possession when the ball was batted off his back out of bounds while he was trying to pick up a sneaker that had fallen off.
Toney Douglas hit two free throws before Deron Williams' basket made it 118-116. Anthony missed a jumper, but so did Williams after a timeout. Billups then closed it out with two free throws with 2 seconds remaining.
Despite the teams' proximity, there has never been much of a rivalry, since they have rarely been good at the same time -- and neither have been lately.
But they battled most of the season off the court in pursuit of Anthony. The Nets twice thought they were close to a deal with Denver, but Anthony never said if he would have agreed to a contract extension if dealt to New Jersey. In the end, the Nuggets went with the Knicks' package, but the Nets bounced back quickly by acquiring Williams from Utah in a surprising deal the next day.
"Hopefully as we get better and mature, we can form a better rivalry," Deron Williams said.
- A USA Basketball representative was at the game to present Billups with his ring for helping the U.S. winning last summer's world championship. The presentation had been scheduled for Denver on the night Billups was traded to the Knicks.
- Golden State's Monta Ellis and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge also had three consecutive games of 35 points.