With the New York Knicks locked in a tight fight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, J.R. Smith hit the kind of shot that could end up making the difference between playing on and going home.
Smith hit a 3-pointer for the lead with 1:04 left, and the Knicks held on to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-107 on Wednesday in a game that could turn out to be critical to both teams’ playoff hopes.
”If you are going to shoot the ball, make it – and he did,” Carmelo Anthony said. ”He shot with confidence, he made it and put us up one and we were gone from there.”
Anthony had 32 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyson Chandler added 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who took a two-game lead on Milwaukee for the No. 8 seed in the East. Smith had 14 points off the bench.
”This is a game we had to have,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said.
Anthony came away from the game banged up – he said he hurt his right wrist in the first half and fingers on his left hand in the second half – but said he’ll be fine as the Knicks continue their push for the playoffs.
”This is probably the biggest win we have had so far this season for how important it was,” Anthony said. ”On the road, the way we won, we gutted it out. The way we responded being down eight coming down the stretch, we buckled down on the defensive end.”
Monta Ellis had 35 points and Brandon Jennings added 22 for the Bucks. Milwaukee still can rally to make the playoffs, but Bucks coach Scott Skiles acknowledged that the loss was a significant setback.
”Not good,” Skiles said. ”We expected to win the game. We didn’t win the game. If I feel good about that, I should get another profession.”
A win would have evened the Bucks with the Knicks in the standings and given them a head-to-head tiebreaker edge.
”Obviously, now, we need a little help,” Skiles said. ”We need to win, and we need a little help.”
With the Bucks up by eight and the Knicks’ chances appearing to fade, Anthony drew a technical foul when he slammed the ball on the floor in frustration with 8:53 left in the game.
”We had them,” Jennings said. ”We were right there. A couple shots didn’t go our way.”
Anthony said it was a reaction to hurting his fingers on the play.
”I’m fine, though,” Anthony said. ”I’m cool.”
But Jennings missed the foul shot and the Knicks used a scoring spurt to tie it at 99 on a 3-pointer by Smith. New York then took a 101-99 lead on a pair of free throws by Smith with 3:16 left.
Chandler then picked up his fifth foul, and Ekpe Udoh hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to one.
Anthony then scored on a rebound of his own miss, and Udoh hit a jumper.
Udoh then came up with a block on Iman Shumpert, Mike Dunleavy Jr. rebounded a miss on the other end and kicked it out to Ellis, who hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Bucks a 105-103 lead with 1:45 left.
Anthony hit a turnaround jumper at the other end to tie the game.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scored on a putback on the other end for Milwaukee, but Smith hit an open 3-pointer with 1:04 left to give the Knicks a 108-107 lead.
”Definitely the biggest shot I have made being here so far, especially being on the road and in this atmosphere,” Smith said. ”Battling for that eighth spot, it was big for us.”
After a miss by Dunleavy, Steve Novak – a former Marquette University standout who knows the Bradley Center rims well – hit a pair of free throws for a 110-107 Knicks lead with 19.4 left.
Jennings missed a late 3-pointer that would have tied the game.
The Knicks took advantage of woeful interior defense by the Bucks early on, hitting 11 of their first 12 shots – a lot of them coming on layups. Of the Knicks’ first 30 points of the game, 26 of them came in the paint.
New York shot 77.3 percent from the field in the first quarter and led 36-27 going into the second, but the Bucks came back and went into halftime tied at 62.
Jennings said the comeback might have sapped the Bucks’ energy.
”It kind of takes a lot out of you,” Jennings said. ”I think that’s where it kind of hit us, in the fourth quarter or the last five minutes. We missed some shots we usually make.”
Notes: It was a short night for Milwaukee center Drew Gooden, who is nursing a sore back and played only 5:02. … Chandler was 6-for-6 from the field. … Milwaukee had seven blocked shots, including three each by Udoh and Larry Sanders.