NEW YORK -- Tyson Chandler had endured his coach ripping into him and the New York Knicks center responded by tying a franchise record, grabbing 20 rebounds in three straight games.
Along with teammate Carmelo Anthony's 27 points, Chandler's prowess on the boards had just helped the Knicks beat the Detroit Pistons 99-85 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. New York finished the homestand 5-0, the first time it had done so since the 1996-97 season, and Chandler's feat tied a mark a Knick had not accomplished since Willis Reed did it in 1969-70.
So why was Chandler grimacing as he prepared for his postgame interview session?
The California native and San Francisco 49ers fan had a Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl XLVII championship hat awaiting him in his locker. It came courtesy of locker mate Anthony, a Ravens fan who had made a pregame bet with his teammate.
"How did they get this here so fast?" Chandler asked, shaking his head, before putting it on for his interview.
"It's just a coincidence that he had three games with 20 rebounds and that picture will be everywhere," a gleeful Anthony said later. "It's very hard to do, so you've gotta take your hat off to Tyson."
While Chandler undoubtedly would have preferred to just keep the Ravens' hat off of him, the friendly ribbing and celebratory atmosphere was indicative of how far the Knicks have come this season. On the one-year anniversary of former Knick Jeremy Lin kicking off "Linsanity" with 25 points off the bench, New York's victory moved it within percentage points of the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
They also again showed the bond that has helped them look like a more complete team than the one that rode along with Lin's sudden rise to fame last year.
"That was an exciting time, an exciting moment," Chandler said of last season, "but we didn't have the cast we have now. This team has a chance to do something special. Something that hasn't been done in a long time."
Once again, the Knicks (31-15) showed a level of chemistry that didn't seem possible last season, with Amar'e Stoudemire coming off the bench to score 20 points and J.R. Smith adding 16 in a game the Knicks never trailed and dominated most of the way.
Detroit (18-31) was searching to find some chemistry of its own, after losing its fourth game in its last five and finally welcoming guard Jose Calderon, who made his Pistons debut.
The Spain native had been unable to practice with or play for Detroit since his acquisition last week in a three-team trade due to visa issues, but he was cleared Monday afternoon. He scored 15 points and had three assists in 27 minutes as he tried to adjust quickly. Rodney Stuckey had 14 points for the Pistons.
"I tried to do the best I could," Calderon said. "I am thinking too much. I am trying to figure out all my teammates. I have to do a better job of figuring out how to get my guys involved. ... It wasn't the best start, but there were some positive parts."
With Anthony scoring nine points and Iman Shumpert five early in the first quarter, the Knicks jumped out to a 20-6 lead and never looked back.
As they had in their rout of the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, the Knicks busted the game open in the second quarter, expanding their lead to 57-31 at the break with a 20-10 run.
Thanks to a 9-0 run sparked by six points from Stuckey, Detroit closed to 12 points late in the fourth quarter, the first time the deficit had been that small since late in the first quarter.
But the Knicks quickly responded. Smith and Steve Novak hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give New York a 91-75 lead with 3:18 to play.
"That definitely decided it and broke our back," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said after his team lost to the Knicks for the third time this season. "Every time we play New York, three times, they dominate the first quarter. We put ourselves in such a hole; we start playing frustration basketball, and mentally, we don't stay as focused and engaged as we need to be."
The Knicks again offered an impressive barrage from 3-point range, hitting 50 percent from there in the first half, before cooling off in the second.
But Frank called Chandler "invaluable" and the Knicks' MVP for the night, as the All-Star center again dominated defensively and on the boards.
That's what he has done since Knicks coach Mike Woodson called him into "the principal's office," as Chandler put it. There, the coach told him he was an All-Star and needed to play like it. Chandler said his coach was "exactly right."
"Sometimes you need that," Chandler said. "You need a little push."
The push has nudged Chandler into a rare place in Knicks history, one that prompted Anthony to take his hat off to his teammate -- even if he wouldn't allow Chandler to take off the Ravens' hat he was obligated to wear.
NOTES: Knicks forward Rasheed Wallace, who hasn't played since Dec. 13 due to a foot injury, should be ready to practice after the All-Star break, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. ... Woodson said center Marcus Camby, who hasn't played since Jan. 10 due to plantar fasciitis, also could resume practicing after the break but added he was less certain about his status. ... Pistons center Andre Drummond, a Mount Vernon, N.Y. native, played only eight minutes and didn't return in the second half after tweaking a back injury he sustained against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. He said after the game he would be all right and didn't expect to miss more time.