Knicks 99, Bobcats 95
From the joking with former teammates to the friendly pregame introduction and the small city of friends and family on hand, Raymond Felton was in the spotlight all night in his first game back in Charlotte.
Then the Bobcats lost track of him when it mattered most.
Felton had 23 points and 13 assists, but it was his decision to sneak into the lane on a free-throw attempt and rip the rebound away from a surprised Tyrus Thomas in the closing seconds that helped preserve the New York Knicks' 99-95 victory on Wednesday night.
It came seconds after Amare Stoudemire's big block of Stephen Jackson, the kind of clutch plays the Knicks were hoping for when they signed the duo in the offseason. After a 3-8 start, the Knicks have won five straight, and Felton relished a home-and-home sweep of the team that didn't try to re-sign him in the offseason.
''It was very emotional, man,'' Felton said. ''It's good to win and be back at home.''
With New York leading by two, Felton's rebound of Landry Fields' miss led to Danilo Gallinari's clinching free throws with 5 seconds left as the Knicks reached .500 and secured their longest winning streak since the 2005-06 season.
''Nobody really thought to box me out because I never went in to rebound anytime on a free throw,'' Felton said. ''I took it as an opportunity.''
Stoudemire added 20 points and six blocks, including rejecting a driving Jackson with 35 seconds left and New York clinging to a 96-95 lead.
''I saw him coming, so he was going to try me,'' Stoudemire said. ''He normally goes up strong, but I was able to time it perfectly.''
Wilson Chandler scored 21 points for New York, which had lost six straight before its current, confidence-boosting surge.
''Winning five straight feels great,'' Stoudemire said. ''But being 8-8 and .500 is something that we've got to improve on. We still have a lot of work to do.''
Getting his first start in a small lineup ahead of the struggling Nazr Mohammed, Thomas had 26 points and 11 rebounds and spearheaded Charlotte's comeback from 14 points down in the third quarter.
Thomas' three-point play with 1:29 left put Charlotte ahead, but Stoudemire's two free throws 10 seconds later put New York up to stay.
''We play like a bunch of strangers,'' Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. ''No ball movement, too many guys standing around. When you have to fight uphill all the time, you have to play perfect at the end. But this team doesn't quit.''
Jackson scored 18 points, but was 7 of 20 from the field and the Bobcats got another subpar game from Gerald Wallace, who as held to eight points on 4-of-10 shooting and didn't talk to reporters after the game.
Felton's replacement, D.J. Augustin, had 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
''We're fighting hard at the end, but you've got to have that same attitude at the beginning of the game,'' Augustin said.
Felton's first game back in Charlotte since the Bobcats didn't try to re-sign him in the offseason was a sweet one. He hit 9-of-18 shots and overcame six turnovers to deliver the Knicks their second win over Charlotte in two nights.
A self-proclaimed ''country boy'' from tiny Latta, S.C., Felton won a national championship at North Carolina and was the fifth overall pick of the Bobcats in 2005. But after his fifth season ended with him being dominated by Orlando's Jameer Nelson in the playoffs, the Bobcats didn't offer him a contract.
Charlotte's salary-cap situation - owner Michael Jordan desperately wanted to get under the luxury tax threshold - played a major role in Felton leaving the Carolinas for the first time in his life.
''It wasn't really about me not doing my job,'' Felton said before the game.
Felton said he ''stopped counting'' after securing 100 tickets for family and friends. His mother, father and young son sat courtside.
Introduced first with the Knicks, Felton received polite applause.
''I wasn't a bad guy when I was here,'' Felton said, smiling. ''It was very warming to my heart to hear the crowd do that. I still love the fans of Charlotte.''
Notes: Gallinari missed his first free throw of the night, ending his streak of 43 straight, one shy of Chris Duhon's team record. ... Mohammed didn't play after starting the previous 14 games. Brown said it was because of matchups. ... A banged-up Ronny Turiaf was held to 17 minutes for New York. ... Brown is a big fan of second-round pick Fields, who is starting for the Knicks. ''I almost went to Stanford, so for four years he's been my favorite,'' Brown said. ... Brown hopes Knicks president Donnie Walsh sticks around as he recovers from hip-replacement surgery. ''Donnie is as good as anybody we have in our league,'' Brown said.