Smith's 35 points lead Knicks to sixth straight win

Dave Buscema, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- After nearly blowing a 30-point lead before holding on, then watching the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak end, the New York Knicks suddenly owned the longest active win streak in the Eastern Conference.
Granted, the six-game stretch, which included a 108-101 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, isn't nearly as impressive as Miami's run. But after another win at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks, who were led by J.R. Smith's 35 points, were grateful to be back on the winning track after a four-game skid earlier this month.
"We are trying to stay on top of our division and playing for the second spot, so we are trying to maintain," coach Mike Woodson said after the Knicks moved up three games over the Brooklyn Nets, pending the Nets' later game against Portland. "There are a lot of things out there at stake and our guys are making the conscious effort to push forward and it is converting into wins."
That effort almost didn't result in a win Wednesday as Memphis rallied in the fourth quarter to cut a 30-point second-half deficit to four with 33 seconds left. But Smith and Raymond Felton hit some big free throws in the final minute to help the Knicks (44-26) hold on.
Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points and Iman Shumpert added 16 for the Knicks, who were again without injured center Tyson Chandler.
Memphis lost its fifth straight road game, again failing to earn what would be a franchise-record 20th win away from home this season.
Mike Conley scored 26 points to lead Memphis, which lost its second straight game and third of its last four. Jerryd Bayless had 24 points and Tony Allen added 18 for the Grizzlies (47-24).
Injured center Marc Gasol returned after a two-game absence, but he struggled along the way to 13 points and five rebounds.
"Well, obviously it was a bad start -- get down all the way by 30 points," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "I'm proud of our guys, the way that they showed character and fought back. ... We had to finally find a lineup where they could both guard and score. We worked our way back and got it down to four; we just didn't have any margin for error."
The Knicks were in control nearly the whole game, but Memphis suddenly made it interesting in the fourth quarter, eventually closing within 103-99 on a pair of free throws by Allen with 33 seconds left.
Those came about a half-minute after the Knicks thought they had finally put away the Grizzlies when Jason Kidd answered a putback by Quincy Poindexter with a 3-pointer. Kidd's three gave New York a 103-95 lead with 1:16 left, but Memphis, which had gone on a 9-0 spurt to close within five, got closer on Allen's free throws.
Felton and Smith combined to hit 3 of 4 free throws for the Knicks on their next possessions to boost the lead back to 106-99, and New York held on.
After a dominant first half, the Knicks got the lead up to 30 early in the third quarter, but Memphis trimmed the deficit nearly in half, to 86-70, entering the fourth. Already dealing with several injuries, the Knicks lost another body a quarter of the way into the third, when Marcus Camby was ejected with his second technical foul after arguing a foul call.
It came amid a string of eight straight free throws for Memphis, which, along with a three-point play by Allen and a basket for Conley, fueled a 13-2 spurt that drew Memphis within 76-60 with 5:58 left in the third.
Memphis cut the deficit even further early in the fourth, when Bayless scored nine straight points. His free throw to complete a three-point play after a layup got Memphis within 89-79 with 9:10 left.
The Knicks dominated nearly from the start, shooting 72 percent in the first quarter and putting up 69 points in the first half to take a 28-point lead.
New York hit 11 3-pointers entering the half, with Smith hitting three on the way to 23 first-half points.
"He is dialed in right now," Anthony said. "That is the J.R. we all know about and we look forward to watching."
Shumpert was a perfect 6 of 6 from the field in the first half, scoring 16 points -- 13 in the first quarter.
The Knicks outscored Memphis 32-16 in the second quarter as Smith scored 12 points while Steve Novak hit 3-pointers.
"It was a perfect storm," Gasol said of the Knicks taking the huge lead. "For a minute, it seemed like everyone was feeling it and we looked lost. They got really, really hot and offensively we weren't moving the ball."
NOTES: Gasol was initially expected to miss his third straight game with an abdominal tear, but Hollins said the center insisted on getting back in the lineup. "He said he was playing," Hollins said before the game. "I told him I'd rather check with the doctors, and he said he was playing." Gasol, who was held to just two points and didn't have a rebound in the first half, said he knew the injury would be "a little difficult" but that he was fine and that it wasn't an issue. ... The Grizzlies' 19 road wins tied the franchise record achieved in three straight seasons, starting in 2003-04, though Memphis had lost four straight away games. ... Chandler missed his eighth straight game with a bulging disk in his neck, and Woodson said his status remained "day to day." Chandler didn't appear to indicate a quick return Tuesday, when he told reporters he still had significant pain and had trouble simply looking up.

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