Looks like Phil Jackson got in just at the right time.
The newly minted New York Knicks president’s second day on the job saw his team run its season-best win streak to seven games by topping the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers, 92-86, at a charged-up Madison Square Garden.
After receiving a standing ovation during pregame introductions, Jackson witnessed Carmelo Anthony put up 34 points and Amar’e Stoudemire pour in 21 in just 29 minutes to help continue the Knicks’ late push for a postseason berth.
Tyson Chandler pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds for New York, now just four games back of Atlanta for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with 14 to play.
“With a guy like that around it creates a winning mentality, it creates an atmosphere that’s pretty golden and we’ve got to capitalize on that,” Stoudemire said of Jackson.
Lance Stephenson tallied 21 points and nine rebounds for Indiana and Roy Hibbert finished with 20 points, but All-Star Paul George was held to 17 on 4- of-17 shooting and the Pacers went 5-of-23 on 3-point attempts in having a string of four straight victories halted.
The Knicks never relinquished a lead they gained midway through the first quarter, though the Pacers put the outcome in doubt until the final stages with a spirited comeback effort that began early in the second half.
Down 53-37 just over two minutes into the third quarter, Indiana closed the gap behind a 9-0 run capped by Stephenson’s driving layup with 6:26 remaining in the period. A pair of Stephenson free throws that followed former Knick Chris Copeland’s basket further trimmed the margin near the end of the frame, putting the Pacers within 65-62.
George’s midrange jumper with just over a minute elapsed in the fourth quarter cut New York’s once-sizeable lead to 67-66, but the Knicks responded with eight consecutive points to gain some separation.
Indiana kept battling, drawing within 80-76 on a Hibbert bucket with 4:15 left. The Knicks again had an answer, though, as Anthony sank two foul shots and threw down a shattering dunk to highlight a 6-1 surge that put the hosts up 86-77 with two minutes to play.
Stephenson’s 3-pointer with 1:54 remaining had the Pacers down 86-80, but he and David West turned it over on Indiana’s next two trips down the court and New York again increased the differential on Raymond Felton’s jumper and Anthony’s 1-of-2 success rate from the line.
George was fouled on a 3-point try with 13.5 seconds on the clock and made all three bonus attempts to trim the deficit to 90-86, before Tim Hardaway Jr. iced the game for New York with two free throws on the following possession.
The Knicks wasted little time making a good first impression on Jackson, controlling the majority of the opening half and closing out the initial quarter on a 6-1 run to build a 21-14 lead at period’s end.
New York extended the margin with a strong second quarter highlighted by 10 points from Stoudemire, four of which were part of a 12-2 stretch that pushed the Knicks’ advantage to 39-25 midway through the frame.
The Pacers trailed by 15 nearing the conclusion of the half, but pulled within 47-35 at the break on a George 3-pointer with 21 seconds on the clock.
“In the first half we tried to do it ourselves and only had two assists,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “In the second half we played much better. Shared the basketball better, we screened better, but we fell short.”
Notes: The Knicks had won their first six games of the current streak by double digits and scored at least 107 points in each of those victories … New York went 24-of-29 from the foul line compared to a 19-of-27 performance by Indiana, led by Anthony’s 10-of-12 effort at the stripe … The Knicks will shoot for an eighth straight win Friday in Philadelphia against a 76ers team that lost its 22nd in a row on Wednesday.