NEW YORK (AP)—For the New York Knicks, a loss would have been beyond demoralizing. More like devastating, an excuse to mail in the final 25 games of the season.
Such a calamity nearly happened as New York blew a 10-point lead in the final 46 seconds of regulation, but the Knicks refused to give up and held the Los Angeles Lakers scoreless over the final 2:25 of overtime in a 117-115 victory Monday night.
“That was a gut check for us, but we really stepped up,” New York’s Jamal Crawford said. “(A loss) really would have bothered all of us. To have three or four days off until our next game, it would have weighed on our minds.”
“Everybody’s going to sleep a little better tonight, and the food they eat is going to taste a little better,” Crawford said.
The victory was the third straight for the Knicks, matching their longest winning streak of the season. New York remained in last place in the Atlantic Division but pulled within five games of the first-place Boston Celtics.
Kobe Bryant forced overtime by making a 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left in regulation, but he couldn’t come up with another big play at the end.
The Lakers had a chance for the final shot, but Bryant passed to Luke Walton on the left side of the key, and Walton tossed the ball back to Bryant rather than taking a shot. Bryant wasn’t expecting the pass and fumbled it briefly— just enough time for Kurt Thomas to recover and block Bryant’s look at the basket.
Bryant tried to dribble a few steps away for a buzzer-beater, but the clock ran out. He angrily spiked the ball to the ground and shot a glance at Walton as the Knicks celebrated.
“It was a mix-up in communication,” Bryant said. “I kicked it to Luke and thought he had a pretty good look. He fired it back to me and I bobbled it.
“We’re going to have to take our lumps, being a young team, and we’re taking them now,” Bryant said.
Tim Thomas scored a season-high 35 points, Michael Sweetney tied his career high with 19 points and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, and Kurt Thomas had 15 points and 12 rebounds as New York’s front line dominated.
Bryant had 30 points, eight assists, five rebounds and seven turnovers, and Lamar Odom had 26 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers.
Tim Thomas shot 13-for-19, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range, as the Knicks won at home for the fifth straight time.
Thomas has been playing better lately after struggling though one of the worst seasons of his professional career. He had 27 points in a victory over Philadelphia, 11 points in a win over Indiana and his first 30-point game of the year against the Lakers.
“I’m healthy, and mentally my mind is free of everything,” Thomas said. “I thought I broke a glass or something, because it seemed like everything was going wrong. I tried to stay positive and be patient, because I knew at some time it was going to turn around.”
Los Angeles (28-27) has lost three in a row and is in danger of dropping to .500 for the first time since being 5-5.
The Lakers opened a 115-111 lead midway through overtime on a three-point play by Bryant, but they didn’t score again. Marbury’s layup was goaltended by Odom with 1:10 left, and Crawford came up with a steal while guarding Chucky Atkins.
Marbury missed a shot and Kurt Thomas missed a putback, but Tim Thomas converted a tip-in to tie it. Bryant lost control of the ball on the Lakers’ next possession, and Marbury was fouled on the perimeter by Atkins with 12.1 seconds remaining. Marbury made both foul shots for a 117-115 lead, setting up the Lakers’ final possession.
The Lakers outscored the Knicks 39-24 in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Los Angeles came back from a 10-point deficit in the final minute of regulation by hitting four 3-pointers—one each by Atkins, Odom, Caron Butler and Bryant.
The final 3 by Bryant came after Marbury went to the line with 17.8 seconds remaining with a chance to put the Knicks ahead by four. Marbury missed the second of two from the line, and Bryant stuck a 25-footer over Kurt Thomas to tie it at 107.
The Knicks got the final shot of regulation, but Bryant played tight defense on Crawford and forced him to take a difficult 18-footer that missed.
Atkins made five 3-pointers and scored 22. … The Knicks had 14 steals, three by Marbury. … Jermaine Jackson, signed by the Knicks to a 10-day contract earlier in the day, did not play. … The game drew a sellout crowd, the Knicks’ 21st, and almost all the seats were full despite a snowstorm hitting New York as the game was played.