NEW YORK - When it yielded 57 points in the first half, the New York Knicks' defense looked as if it might finally crack after three stellar games. And they were clinging to just a one-point lead when their leader, Carmelo Anthony, took a rest due to foul trouble halfway through the third quarter.
The Knicks continued their surprising start to the season by shutting down the Dallas Mavericks in the second half while other players stepped up in Friday night's 104-94 win at Madison Square Garden.
The victory gave the Knicks their first 4-0 start since the 1993-1994 season, keeping them as the NBA's only unbeaten team. Dallas fell to 4-2.
Anthony still led the Knicks, hitting a big three-pointer in the first half to help New York tie the game and another one in the fourth quarter to help them put it away. He led all scorers with 31 points. But J.R. Smith scored nine of his 22 points in the final 7:30 of the third quarter, while Anthony sat out, and the Knicks took an 84-78 lead into the fourth.
Tyson Chandler added 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds against his old team. O.J. Mayo led the Mavericks with 23 points.
New York also limited Dallas to just 37 points in the second half.
"It's good for our team to go through games like that," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "You learn from games like that. I kind of like coaching in games like that, just to see who is going to step up and make plays."
The stripped-down Mavericks team that's without Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion stepped up early, with Mayo scoring 14 points and Vince Carter 12 as they took a 57-55 lead into halftime. But the players combined for just 12 points in the second half and the Knicks limited guard Darren Collison to just four points for the game.
"We didn't make shots, that's the thing," Carter said. "We got our shots in the first half and they picked up their intensity."
The Knicks defense again amped it up in the second half, as it has not allowed a team to score more than 40 points after halftime through the season's first four games. The Mavericks made 13 of their 20 turnovers in the second half.
"We've been staying away from high turnover games since exhibition (season), but tonight it got us," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "New York is a veteran team, and if you give them more possessions than you, and you give them possessions on catastrophic turnovers, they are going to turn them into points.
"They are a very good team. In my opinion, they are one of a handful of teams in the East that has a chance to come out of the East."
As usual, Anthony led the scoring, helping the Knicks erase what had been a nine-point deficit in the first half with a 3-pointer to tie the game 44-44 with 4:16 remaining in the second quarter. In the fourth, his three put the Knicks up 93-86 with 7:05 left, sparking an 8-0 run that helped put the game away.
"He is making guys better," Woodson said of Anthony. "They all believe in each other, you can really see that. In the third and fourth quarter, they knew that this team was for real."
With Anthony out after his fourth foul in the third quarter, Smith stepped up, scoring nine points with his star-studded teammate on the bench.
"Just be aggressive," Smith said of what he thought when Anthony went out. "... Keep playing defense, keep communicating."
The Mavericks took a 57-55 lead into the intermission, the score fitting for a back-and-forth first half.
Dallas pulled ahead 31-25 to start the second quarter with an 8-0 run, led by a pair of 3-point shots by Mayo. A few minutes later, a 10-4 run led by Carter, who had seven of his 12 first-half points during the stretch, put Dallas up 41-32.
But as he had through the Knicks' first three games, Anthony led the Knicks back, scoring nine of his 19 first-half points in the next three minutes to help the Knicks get back in the game.
NOTES: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had some half-joking barbs for former Mavericks guard Jason Kidd, but was much more generous with victims of Hurricane Sandy. Cuban had told a radio station this summer he was upset with Kidd for changing his mind on returning to the Mavericks and instead opting to join the Knicks the same day. "I'm going to boo the hell out of him and hope he has about 15 turnovers," Cuban told reporters before the game, but added he would do so "happily and with a lot of warmth." Cuban, who owns an apartment in New York City, also said he donated more than $1 million to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. "We're all Americans and sometimes if you can do the right thing, you should do the right thing," he said. ... Marcus Camby played in his first game for the Knicks since the 2001 playoffs, as he finally was recovered enough from his left calf strain to make his season debut. Camby scored two points and had four rebounds in eight minutes.