But down it went, and the Knicks' lagging spirits -- as well as their playoff hopes -- went up.
Eddy Curry scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, Marbury rattled in a clinching 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds left, and New York beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-93 on Wednesday night to snap a four-game losing streak.
The injury-depleted Knicks lost yet another starter, but won for the second time in eight games and are 1 1/2 games behind Orlando for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"I have said before, we are not going to cave," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "We are going to keep fighting and keep competing. It may not be pretty. As long as we have five, we are going to go out, compete and play as hard as we possibly can."
"I think we've got a talented team. I think we're talented enough to adapt to any kind of situation," Curry said. "We've been hit with a lot this season and have been fortunate to play through it. You've just got to go out there and play hard."
LeBron James scored 24 points for the Cavaliers, who had a chance to tie the game at 94, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas made only one of two free throws with 34 seconds left. The Knicks ran the shot clock down before Marbury launched a 3 from the right side that seemed ready to bounce out before falling in.
"I saw that thing roll around like five times," Frye said. "I was just like, maybe if I put my arms up it will go in. But you know what, as soon as he shot it I knew it was going in. It was just one of those games where the stars were aligned in our way."
Sasha Pavlovic added 20 points for the Cavaliers, who fell three games behind Detroit for best record in the East. The Cavs, who clinched a playoff berth Tuesday, fell to 1-1 on a five-game road trip while they vacate their arena for the women's Final Four.
"It's about us getting stops, but more importantly wanting to assert the effort to get stops," Cavs coach Mike Brown said.
James said the problems were on both ends of the floor, not just on defense.
"I never disagree with my coach," he said. "He puts us in a position to win basketball games. I think at times it was, at times it wasn't.
"We had some opportunities to win, we had some opportunities to lose the game. We lost the game on the defensive end."
The short-handed Knicks, playing without three key players, got a big game from Curry, who was a surprisingly strong 11-for-14 from the free throw line. He twice had baskets early in the fourth quarter after Cleveland had cut New York's lead to one point.
New York led for the final 8-plus minutes, but never by more than five points. Marbury hit another key 3-pointer with 1:41 left after James turned it over with the Cavs having closed to 91-89.
"It's something that's needed," Marbury said. "It was a team effort tonight. The way Eddy played, he played great, he shot free throws extremely well tonight, and he hasn't been shooting them well. So everybody contributed."
The Knicks added to their injury list when Steve Francis was lost to a sprained right ankle late in the first quarter after a strong start. The Cavs were much luckier just before halftime when James took a hard fall on a drive to the hoop. But he got up and made the free throws, then shook off another fall when he was tripped up by Jared Jeffries on a drive with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Playing on the road for the second straight night, the Cavaliers shot only 35 percent in a sluggish first half. The Knicks shot 54 percent, getting 10 points apiece from Frye and Curry in taking a 51-46 lead.
New York extended its lead to 65-56 midway through the third quarter on the second of Marbury's consecutive layups, but Cleveland tied it at 70 with a rare three-point play. James found Eric Snow for a basket at the buzzer, with Frye getting called for a technical foul for grabbing the rim while trying to block the shot. James hit the tying technical free throw before the start of the fourth.
X-rays on Francis' ankle were negative. He was 3-for-3 for seven points in 10 minutes, two days after expressing frustration with his playing time after scoring only one point in 12 minutes of a loss to Orlando. ... Randolph Morris, who signed with the Knicks last week just days after playing for Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, made his NBA debut with 3:27 left in first quarter. He fit right in with the Knicks, going 1-for-4 from the free throw line. ... The Knicks evened the season series at 2-all after Cleveland won 90-68 at home last Friday.