Their coach’s fears were unfounded as the New York Knicks avoided a letdown against a terrible team that was missing missed two of its top three scorers.
“Sometimes you have a tendency to relax, and when you relax, these guys are not in the NBA for nothing,” Williams said. “They’re one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the league, and what happens, they end up missing shots and they get putbacks, and it sort of deflates you a little bit.”
Ending a two-game losing streak and winning on the road for just the eighth time this season, the Knicks held Atlanta without a field goal for nearly nine minutes after Tom Gugliotta’s 15-footer produced an 84-84 tie with 9:40 remaining.
“We just needed this. Especially going into Miami,” Thomas said.
New York, which visits the Heat Saturday night, is five games behind seventh-place Chicago in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks must pass Philadelphia, Orlando and New Jersey to move into eighth place.
The Hawks, who dressed only 10 players with Harrington and Childress out, have lost four straight and 17 of 18.
“We need everybody to be healthy,” Atlanta center Obinna Ekezie said. “With Harrington and Childress out, we really had a problem.”
Including a 29-point loss Wednesday to Washington, the Hawks have gone over 15 minutes of the last two fourth quarters without a field goal. Ekezie, out of the NBA since 2002 before signing two months ago, summed up his team’s sad state.
“We were getting good looks, but we just couldn’t put them in,” said Ekezie, a starter who missed all four of his fourth-quarter attempts. “I thought we competed well. We outrebounded them. We just couldn’t buy a shot.”
After Thomas’ 3-pointer with 8:42 left in the third quarter, the Hawks went on 32-21 run that ended with Gugliotta’s basket from the right baseline. Thomas, who finished 4-for-6 on 3s, put the game out of reach with a 3 following Marbury’s steal to make it 95-86.
“I just went for it,” Marbury said. “I saw that Tyronn kind of went to the ball, and then he stumbled.”
Marbury hit a five-footer late in the second quarter to give the Knicks their biggest lead of the first half, 47-34.
“We needed this win, no matter what,” Kurt Thomas said after scoring 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. “We didn’t come out in the third quarter and act like we wanted to win.”
Diaw’s putback cut the lead to 81-78 at the end of the third.
With the Knicks playing at Miami on Saturday night, New York G Penny Hardaway sat out the game to rest his sore right hamstring. … New York swept the Hawks for the second straight year. Last season marked their first sweep of Atlanta since 1974-75. … Smith stayed in the game despite getting kicked in the stomach by Malik Rose with 11:38 remaining.