Williams hit a jumper from the left elbow with 1.7 seconds remaining to lift the Memphis Grizzlies to an 87-85 victory over the New York Knicks in Brown’s first game at Madison Square Garden in more than 16 years.
“There is anxiety when you play in this building because you want your team to play well and win,” Brown said. “The people tonight were wonderful and they got to see a good game. A good thing about the situation is that we came away with the victory.”
The 69-year-old Brown coached his last game here for the Knicks on November 29, 1986, a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was fired three days later and enjoyed a successful career as a TV analyst before Grizzlies president Jerry West lured him out of retirement after the team got off to an 0-8 start.
Memphis has responded to Brown and extended its winning streak to four games while the Knicks remained four games behind Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
With the game tied at 85-85, Williams hit the back rim on a shot from the right of the foul line but grabbed the rebound after it was tapped out by teammate Pau Gasol. Brown elected not to call timeout, and the Grizzlies spread the floor and cleared the lane for Williams.
With Howard Eisley defending, the right-handed Williams dribbled to the left of the foul line and drilled the game-winning jumper. The flamboyant point guard celebrated with a flurry of uppercuts while staring at newly crowned WBA heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr., who was seated at courtside.
“I just told him (Jones) I knocked them out like he knocked that boy (John Ruiz) out,” said Williams. “I ain’t scared to take the last shot and if you’re scared to take the last shot, you don’t belong on the floor in the last seconds of a basketball game.”
“This is why we let him (Williams) hold the ball,” Brown said. “He’s a prime-time player. He shoots over 50 percent inside of three and he won the game for us.”
Houston threw up an airball on an off-balance 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Houston hit just 8-of-26 shots, including 1-of-9 from 3-point range, and was called for a key offensive foul with 35 seconds left.
“For me, this is the most disappointing loss of the season,” Houston said. “That was a questionable offensive foul at the end, but we just didn’t play well down the stretch.”
Latrell Sprewell also struggled for the Knicks. He finished with 14 points after going scoreless in the first half and was just 5-of-15 from the field.
New York also tied a franchise record for fewest free throws with four, yet still held a 72-65 lead with just under nine minutes left before the 6-10 Swift used his size to power inside for three dunks and a layup, sparking a 10-0 run.
“Stromile gave us what we needed inside when we had to have it in the fourth quarter,” Brown said. “He’s very quick inside and explosive.”
The explosion started with a tomahawk dunk, pulling the Grizzlies within 72-69 with 8:02 left. Swift drew oohs and aahs from the Garden crowd with a reverse slam off a missed shot with 7:38 remaining and dunked off an alley-oop pass from Brevin Knight 26 seconds later. Swift capped off the spurt with a layup, giving Memphis a 75-72 lead with 5:59 left.
“Everything was going my way at that point of the game with the dunks to get us back in it,” said Swift, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds after getting 23 and 13 in Sunday’s win at Toronto.
New York tied the game at 83-83 on a 3-pointer by Howard Eisley with 2:45 left, but Swift blocked a shot by Eisley and scored on another dunk with 1:33 remaining.
A pair of free throws by New York’s Kurt Thomas tied the game with 1:14 left. But after Swift missed a wild shot from the left baseline, Memphis’ Shane Battier drew an offensive foul on Houston, who elbowed the Grizzlies forward in the chest with 35 seconds left.
Gasol had 17 points and 11 rebounds and Williams finished with 15 points for the Grizzlies.
Former Grizzlie Othella Harrington led the Knicks with 18 points - 14 in the first quarter - and 14 rebounds.
“This one slipped away from us. We should have won it,” Knicks coach Don Chaney said. “Mistakes cost us. Howard was in Williams’ face on the game-winning shot, but we had bad lapses in the fourth quarter. Swift beat us inside too many times.”
Harrington scored 14 points in the first quarter as the Knicks opened a 20-17 lead. They increased the advantage to nine in the second quarter, but an 11-1 run gave Memphis a 38-37 advantage.
Battier provided a highlight-reel end to the half with a four-point play. After dribbling past midcourt, he hoisted a shot as New York’s Charlie Ward ran into him. The shot banked home, and Battier converted the free throw, giving Memphis a 45-42 halftime advantage.