Before they took the court against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, the Knicks took a calculated gamble, choosing to rest Tyson Chandler, their defensive conscience, even if it might mean giving up a game and a chance to change the standings.
It all turned out O.K. — albeit by mere inches and mere tenths of a second — when Atlanta’s Marvin Williams blew a driving dunk at the final buzzer, allowing the Knicks to escape with a 113-112 victory.
Amar’e Stoudemire and converged on Williams as he drove the lane, challenging him just enough to prevent the basket. On a day when neither team played much defense, that was the only stand that mattered.
“It was a good drive by him,” said Stoudemire, who looked lively in his second game back from a back injury. “He attacked the rim well. I think Melo and myself both had our hands on the ball, so it was tough for him to make that basket.”
Replays showed that Williams did not release the ball before the buzzer sounded, which was also a credit to the Knicks, for delaying him just long enough on the drive. Williams had intended to hand the ball back to Joe Johnson, but Iman Shumpert cut off the pass.
Replays also appeared to show some contact between Stoudemire and Williams, although Stoudemire denied it.
“I drove the ball and I felt like I got fouled at the end,” Williams said. “But they didn’t call it, so you just move on to the next one.”
It was an encouraging moment for the Knicks all the way around — for the victory it preserved and for Stoudemire’s stout effort in Chandler’s place. He finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds and absorbed several hard hits, appearing every bit recovered from the bulging disk that cost him 13 games.
“I felt great, I felt strong,” he said. “My back feels phenomenal.”
Anthony, who struggled Friday in Cleveland, regained his touch with a 39-point, 10-rebound effort while alternately dueling with Johnson (22 points), Williams (29) and Josh Smith (14). Jeff Teague added 23 points for the Hawks (38-26), who are practically locked into the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The victory kept the Knicks (34-30) in seventh place, with a half-game lead on the Philadelphia 76ers (33-30), with two games to play. The Knicks also kept alive their slim hopes to catch Orlando (36-28), which lost to Denver on Sunday night, for sixth.
Coach Mike Woodson agreed to Chandler’s request for a day off, concluding it was more important to protect his defensive anchor than to jockey for playoff position. “I think so,” Woodson said. “For him, it is.”
Chandler plans to return to the lineup Wednesday night, when the Knicks close their home schedule against the Los Angeles Clippers. They conclude the regular season Thursday in Charlotte. The playoffs begin two days later.
Chandler is not injured, but he has played a team-high 2,029 minutes and is averaging 36 a game in April.
“I want to be fresh for the playoffs,” Chandler said. “And the coaching staff and medical staff thought it would be best for me to get rest here, because we have one game in four days.”
Without Chandler to hold the defense together, the Knicks turned porous, giving up 65 points in the first half and allowing the Hawks to shoot 58 percent through three quarters. They finally responded in the fourth, holding Atlanta to 7-for-18 shooting.
“It just shows how valuable Tyson Chandler is to our ball club,” Woodson said, adding: “We missed him. We stayed the course.”
Woodson smiled as he called the game an “old-school shootout,” but then admitted: “Yeah, I hated it. I’d like to see some defense.”
The Knicks’ offense more than compensated, as all five starters scored in double figures, including a resurgent Landry Fields, who produced 18 points and went 7 for 8 from the field.
The lead changed hands four times in the final 3 minutes 7 seconds, with the Knicks finally taking a 113-112 lead on Anthony’s 22-footer with 1:40 left. The Knicks blew two chances to pad the lead in the final minute, with J. R. Smith throwing the ball away and Anthony missing a quick 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left.
Jared Jeffries rested his sore right knee again Sunday and will be held out of the final two games as well, Mike Woodson said. He is expected back for Game 1 of the playoffs, however. “We’re playing well right now,” Jeffries said. “I can take this time to get myself back ready.” Assuming he skips the final two games, Jeffries will have played in just 6 of the 19 final regular-season games. He reiterated that he did not need surgery. “It’s just playing 10 years in the league,” he said. “It’s just a bad knee.” … Woodson said he also considered resting Carmelo Anthony but that Anthony preferred to play. “He knows his body,” Woodson said. “I’m sure if there’s any issues there, he’ll tell me and we’ll back off.”