Kurt Thomas wasn’t sure he would even play Monday night after X-rays showed a bone spur in his right foot.
The New York Knicks veteran forward not only played, he earned a game ball for a gutsy, 27-minute effort that included six points, three rebounds and a season-high three blocks in a 90-83 victory over the Utah Jazz.
”Our defense really shined tonight, especially in the second half,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said of holding Utah to 28.9 percent shooting after halftime. ”Everybody just seemed to make plays defensively when we needed to make stops. And then we made big shots when we had to have it.”
J.R. Smith scored 20 points, including 18 in the second half, and Raymond Felton had 19 for the short-handed Knicks, who snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Knicks (39-26) dropped games at Golden State, Denver, Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers by an average margin of 20 points, but salvaged the last game of their trip with the victory over the turnover-prone Jazz (38-27).
”It’s going to be a nice ride home,” Woodson added. ”We have been struggling out here on the road and to win at this altitude and this environment means we were hungry.”
New York remains atop the Atlantic Division and stayed a game ahead of the Nets for the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
New York was without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, who practiced earlier Monday and indicated his right knee feels better since he had fluid drained. New York also remained without center Tyson Chandler, bothered by a strained neck muscle, and forward Amare Stoudemire, who recently underwent knee surgery.
Thomas was a game-time decision, and is expected to undergo an MRI when the team returns to New York on Tuesday. But the 40-year-old provided a big spark off the bench.
”Kurt was a true warrior,” Smith said. ”To fight through what he’s been feeling all week and … do that kind of job on the defensive end and make shots, they don’t make that breed no more.”
Thomas said he was just waiting for his number to be called.
”You stay ready and do what you know you can do,” he said.
The effort surprised even Woodson.
”He hadn’t played 26 minutes maybe all year and we didn’t even know if he was going to play tonight. It was a total team effort but Kurt deserved the game ball tonight,” Woodson said.
Afterward, Felton wasn’t immediately available because he was icing his sore back. And Jason Kidd was nursing a sore left wrist, though X-rays taken immediately after the game were negative.
The hurt put on the Jazz, fresh off a big win over Memphis on Saturday, was worse.
”We played hard, we competed, we just fell a little short,” said Gordon Hayward, who led Utah with 17 points and a career-high four blocks. ”That was a tough one to lose.”
Paul Millsap added 12 points and Al Jefferson 10, but they were a combined 8 of 22. Overall the Jazz shot 38 percent, scored a season-low 22 points in the paint and missed eight of their last nine shots.
”They did a good job of keeping one or two bodies on Paul at all times,” Marvin Williams said. ”Every time he got the ball they never really gave him a chance to get comfortable.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said New York took the Jazz out of their game despite Utah’s size advantage.
”They were the aggressors tonight,” he said.
Credit Smith, who had just two points at halftime on 1-of-6 shooting but got in the lane and to the line, making nine of 10 free throws and a 20-footer with 2:36 remaining that sealed the win as the Jazz went cold.
Smith, who helped the Knicks beat up on the Jazz on March 9 right after they learned Stoudemire had been lost, scored 10 points in the third quarter as the Knicks took a 66-63 lead.
With so many big men out or hurting, Woodson opted for a smaller lineup, one he thought would boost the tempo and offset Utah’s front-court advantage. Rookie guard Pablo Prigioni made his first NBA start, finishing within three points, three assists and two rebounds.
Smith didn’t start but finished strong, with eight points in the fourth quarter.
Both teams had plenty to play for Monday, the Knicks trying to save face after their skid and the Jazz entering the night a game behind the Lakers for the eighth and final Western Conference spot.
The game was sloppy as they get early, with 24 turnovers in the first half, including 14 by the Jazz leading to 21 Knicks points.
”It’s been a rough stretch for us on this road trip, a lot of guys in and out of the lineup,” Thomas said. ”We kept our heads up.”
NOTES: The early highlight for Utah was a powerful dunk by Williams. … The Jazz held a 22-13 rebounding edge in the first half, with eight in 10 minutes by Derrick Favors. … Hayward’s blocks included one from behind of Knicks F Kenyon Martin. … Jazz C Jefferson recorded his 30th double-double of the season.