76ers 100, Knicks 98
Elton Brand hopes he delivered a sneak preview of playoff basketball for the 76ers.
With more dominant performances in front of a large and loud crowd, they might be there.
Brand scored a season-high 33 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and Philadelphia used a 15-0 run late in the fourth quarter to beat the New York Knicks 100-98 on Friday night.
Brand has been the 76ers' MVP.
He hit 30 points for the first time in three years with the Sixers and continued a sensational comeback season. His career derailed by injuries and ineffectiveness the first two years of an $80 million, five-year deal, Brand has done all he can to prove this year he's no bust.
''Definitely a long time coming,'' Brand said. ''Important game, game that means something. It's February. We're in playoff position right now. It's absolutely what I came for.''
Andre Iguodala had 18 points, a career-high 16 assists and no turnovers, and Jodie Meeks scored 14 for the Sixers, who are trying to catch the Knicks for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
''When we play, we expect to win,'' coach Doug Collins said.
The rematch of the home-and-home series is Sunday.
The Knicks seemingly had the game under control in the fourth until they self-destructed during a scoreless stretch that lasted more than 6 minutes and let the Sixers race into the lead.
Brand scored 19 points in the first quarter, then chipped in with big buckets in the fourth to send a rare energetic crowd of 18,823 into a frenzy. Fans have reason to cheer: Philadelphia has gone 20-13 after a 3-13 start.
Raymond Felton led the Knicks with 26 points and Amare Stoudemire had 21. Danilo Gallinari had 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Shawne Williams' 3 in the final seconds made it 100-98, but he missed the game-tying runner as the clock expired and the Knicks lost their sixth straight road game.
''It should have been a no-brainer to shoot the 3,'' Williams said. ''It was a mistake on my part. The next time, I'll shoot it.''
The Knicks took control in the third quarter behind Felton's stellar performance, then completely collapsed for most of the fourth.
Brand's putback off his own miss and Thaddeus Young's one-handed dunk off Lou Williams' miss made it a one-point deficit. Lou Williams had a steal and slam for an 87-86 lead and Iguodala buried his first 3 of the game, quickly turning a five-point hole into a four-point lead.
Brand swished a jumper for a season-high 29 points and Iguodala followed with a pull-up jumper.
Then a bigger rarity: A nearly full house was rocking again for the Sixers heading into a timeout.
Felton ended the run and a 6 minute, 17-second scoreless stretch with a basket.
The Knicks hold a two-game lead over Philadelphia for sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. It was about as big a game as teams with a combined 48 wins in February could play, especially in a city where NBA enthusiasm has been dormant.
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni was talking playoffs before the game. He doesn't care if the Knicks are the sixth, seventh or eighth seed, as long as they're playing in the postseason. Collins, who early last month was showing his team conference standings as a motivational ploy, insisted he wasn't thinking about any game beyond the Knicks.
He is glad the 76ers are least in the playoff conversation after the woeful start.
''All of a sudden, people are talking about us with a sense of relevancy,'' he said.
No coincidence, Brand's comeback has coincided with Philadelphia's.
Brand about had the game of his Sixers career in one quarter, making 7-of-8 shots for 19 points. The Sixers made 12 of their first 16 shots and raced to a 14-point lead.
''That's the player I wanted to be when I came here,'' Brand said.
The bulk of the buckets came courtesy of Iguodala. He had 10 assists and no points at one point in the second quarter and didn't make his first field goal until the third.
Knicks fans flocked to Philadelphia, serenading Stoudemire with ''MVP!'' chants and they roared over the muted Sixers faithful on Timofey Mozgov's thunderous dunk that capped a comeback for a 40-39 lead. They led 52-51 at the break.
Then the Knicks got rolling. Felton was phenomenal in the third with 15 points and helping the Knicks lead 82-73.
It just wasn't enough.
''We had a chance to win, we should have played with more energy,'' Stoudemire said. ''Once we came back and took the lead, we let down. We've done that before and we've got to correct it.''
Notes: Knicks F Wilson Chandler scored three points after missing three games with a sore left calf. ... Brand's 18 double-doubles are one more than he had combined the first two years in Philadelphia. It was his highest point total since April 12, 2007, when he played for the Clippers.