“11:00 a.m. — Film.”
“3:00 p.m. — To South Beach.”
A strange and twisting season that by all rights should have ended Sunday afternoon will instead last another few days, after a soul-cleansing 89-87 victory over the that kept the Knicks’ playoff hopes alive, if by the narrowest of margins.
The Knicks still trail in the first-round series, three games to one. But that one is bursting with meaning and satisfaction: the franchise’s first playoff win since 2001. The end of a humiliating drought that lasted an N.B.A.-record 13 games and consumed countless coaches and would-be saviors. The first playoff triumph for and Amar’e Stoudemire as teammates.
“The first of many,” Stoudemire promised.
His first chance to make good on that promise will come Wednesday, in Game 5 at American Airlines Arena in Miami. History suggests the Knicks cannot make it out of this series, but this was not a day to doubt Stoudemire’s resolve or Anthony’s determination.
Anthony was brilliant in the late stages Sunday, driving the Knicks to victory with 41 points, including a 12-point fourth quarter and a huge 3-pointer in the final minute. Stoudemire — who nearly ended his season with a self-inflicted laceration of his left hand after Game 2 — earned a fantastic bit of redemption, with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and a critical free throw with 14.8 seconds to go.
That foul shot gave the Knicks a 2-point edge and put the pressure on Miami in the final seconds. The Heat’s last possession ended with Dwyane Wade putting up an off-balance, turnaround 3-point shot in front of the Knicks’ bench as time expired.
The ball clanked off the rim, and thousands of blue and orange streamers cascaded from the rafters, a moment many years overdue.
Stoudemire and Anthony made 23 of the Knicks’ 32 field goals, their most meaningful tag-team effort since they became teammates 15 months ago. Anthony, who had been bottled up and flustered by and Shane Battier all series, unleashed the frustration with a series of timely drives, playing like the star the Knicks were promised.
“He wasn’t ready to go home,” Coach Mike Woodson said, smiling broadly.
At a minimum, the Knicks avoided a sweep. Now comes the toughest part: winning in Miami, where they are 0-4 this season. No N.B.A. team has won a playoff series after trailing by 3-0, and a vast majority (90 out of 100) have lost in four or five games.
The Knicks’ odds will be even longer, after they lost Baron Davis to a season-ending knee injury Sunday. Davis dislocated his right kneecap during a third-quarter rally, becoming the second Knicks guard to go down in the series. Iman Shumpert tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Game 1.
Mike Bibby will probably start at point guard in Game 5, with J. R. Smith as the de facto backup and Toney Douglas as an emergency reserve. It is conceivable that Jeremy Lin, who has been recovering from knee surgery, could be available. The Knicks were not prepared to make that leap yet.
After losing the first three games of this series by double digits, and a combined 60 points, the Knicks played with a focused desperation. For the first time, they played a meaningful and riveting fourth quarter.
Anthony scored on back-to-back layups for a 78-75 lead. James, who had a team-high 27 points, hit two free throws to give Miami a 79-78 lead. Anthony tied the game at 79-79 (on a free throw) and again at 81-81 (on a 15-footer). Bibby hit a 3-pointer for an 84-81 lead. Miami tied the game on a 3-pointer from James.
Then, with the shot clock running down and fans screaming nervously, Anthony hit a 3-pointer over Battier — his designated tormentor in the series — giving the Knicks an 87-84 lead with 54.5 seconds left.
Anthony had the chance to put the game away on the next possession, when Battier fouled him on a 3-point attempt. But he missed the first two free throws, then sank the third for a 4-point lead.
James cut the margin to 1 point with a 3-point play.
Stoudemire was widely criticized by fans and commentators last week after his impulsive smashing of a fire-extinguisher case following Game 2 in Miami. He needed surgery to repair a torn muscle and had been considered doubtful to play again in the series.
Before tip-off, Stoudemire was introduced last, his customary slot, and was welcomed back with a forgiving roar. Hope, not anger, was the predominant feeling Sunday.
“I didn’t really feel like I had something to prove,” he said, adding, “It makes me feel better that we won.”
Iman Shumpert attended his first game since having knee surgery and vowed to come back stronger next season. “I don’t have any fear,” he said Sunday. “I know when I get back, I hope that this leg is better than ever. It’s going to be stronger than ever.” Shumpert, the Knicks’ best perimeter defender, is expected to need six to eight months to recover. He can only wonder how different the series might have looked had he been on the court. “We could do that, go back and forth with that all the time — if Stat’s healthy, if Jeremy’s healthy,” he said, referring to Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. “But it’s like who we got out there is who we got out there. I still think we’re good enough to beat them.”