The Knicks saw their postseason hopes take a serious blow in a 100-98 loss to the Chicago Bulls, who got a career-high 30 points from Curry and 22 and 10 assists from Crawford.
On Friday, the Knicks moved within two games of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, beating Detroit while Milwaukee was trounced at New Orleans. They could have kept the pressure on with a win over the Bulls, who are all but eliminated from playoff contention.
But while Milwaukee beat New Orleans on its home floor, New York was playing for the fourth time in five nights and looked it.
“Games like this we can’t let go if we want to be in the playoff race,” Knicks coach Don Chaney said. “To get in the playoffs, we need to put a string of wins together. This win-one, lose-one won’t do it. If we want to catch up, we have to put a string together.”
“It’s been dangerous to take one step forward and one step back,” Knicks guard Allan Houston said. “We get closer to the safe zone and then we go back to the danger zone.”
The Knicks fell behind for good in the first two minutes and never found the energy to keep up with the young legs of Curry and Crawford, who played a combined one season of college ball.
Curry, a 7-footer in his second year right out of high school, made 12-of-17 shots and grabbed nine rebounds in just 30 minutes as he dominated inside against the smaller Knicks. Only foul trouble prevented him from being more of a force.
“Once I realized I wasw able to push players with my body and not my hands, I have been trying to do it ever since,” the 285-pound Curry said.
“He is going to be a great player in this league,” Knicks forward Kurt Thomas said. “He’s a beast down there. I tell you, he’s a big boy.”
Crawford, a 6-4 point guard in his third year after one aborted season at Michigan, made 10-of-15 shots and nearly notched his first career triple-double. He handed out 10 assists and also pulled down a career-high nine rebounds.
“I am a work in progress right now,” Crawford said. “I still want to get better. I have a lot of room for growth. I have not really played that much organized basketball. This is the most I’ve played in my life.”
The duo combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter, when the Bulls fought off a final charge by the Knicks and won their fifth straight home game.
Thomas scored 20 points for the Knicks (31-39), who fell three games behind the Bucks with 12 to play. Milwaukee owns the tiebreaker, which means New York must make up four games in the standings.
“It’s frustrating to go out and beat the teams not expected to beat and then lose games against teams you’re expected to beat,” Thomas said. “We have to keep our heads up and keep playing.”
Charlie Ward’s jumper opened the fourth quarter and pulled the Knicks within 76-72. But they did not get as close until there was less than 3 1/2 minutes to go.
Curry and Crawford had a lot to do with that. Curry had two free throws and a three-point play to push the lead to 87-76 with 6:23 remaining. The Knicks closed to 87-82, but Crawford made a steal and took it in for a layup with 4:31 to play.
“(Curry) is working real hard down low and we are going to keep going to him,” Bulls guard Jalen Rose said.
“Jamal hit some big shots down the stretch,” Cartwright said. “It has been a long road for him. He has learned to compete. He has been terrific.”
Houston’s 3-pointer made it 91-87 at the 3:23 mark, but Crawford took Ward off the dribble for a layup.
Baskets by Thomas and Clarence Weatherspoon made it 93-91 with 2:23 left and put the pressure on the Bulls. Rose responded with a jumper from the right baseline with 1:40 to go.
After Houston hit a jumper, Crawford set up Curry for a dunk and a 97-93 lead with 54 seconds remaining. Thomas put in a layup, but Crawford again beat Ward with a driving lefthanded layup that sealed it with 13 seconds left.
“Jamal has been able to penetrate in ddep and kick out the ball,” Curry said. “He is creating high-percentage shots and we need that.”
“The play at the end of the game was supposed to go to Jalen,” Crawford said. “I did not want time to run out. I just wanted to create a shot, get fouled and finish.”
Rose scored 16 points and Tyson Chandler added 13 and 13 rebounds for the Bulls, who shot 53 percent (41-of-77) and held a 46-39 rebounding edge.
Houston scored 19 points and Ward added 14 for the Knicks, who just shot 39 percent (33-of-85). Latrell Sprewell, who snapped out of a slump Friday with 22 points, slipped into another one with just seven on 3-of-12 shooting.
Curry had 12 points and Crawford five assists in the first quarter, when the Bulls led by 12 points before settling for a 29-21 advantage.
“I felt if I could come out and make my presence felt early, it would carry throughout the whole game,” Curry said.
“I like the way Eddy is catching the ball and finishing,” Rose said. “He is responsible for the passes you throw him. Earlier in the season and even last year, he did not know how to use his size or footwork. Now he understands that he has a soft touch and big hands.”
A layup by rookie Lonny Baxter gave Chicago its largest lead at 42-28 with 8:03 left in the second quarter. The Knicks rallied with eight straight points and eventually trailed, 56-49, at halftime.