No matter. The deeper, more athletic Atlanta Hawks simply overwhelmed them in the second half.
Al Horford scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds, Josh Smith added 22 points and 12 boards, and the Hawks sent the Knicks to their fifth straight loss with a 114-101 victory Wednesday night.
Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby each had 19 points for the Hawks, who trailed by 14 in the first half but scored 67 points after halftime, seizing control late in the third quarter and pulling away midway through the fourth.
"We can wear a team down with our depth and our athleticism, and the way we're able to switch we can kind of stop a lot of plays being ran," Smith said. "We didn't play our best basketball, so we had to turn it around in the second half and we did."
Former Knicks guard Jamal Crawford added nine of his 11 in the second half. Fellow reserve Maurice Evans, part of Atlanta's bolstered bench, scored 12.
The Knicks like to play fast but the Hawks ran right by them, outscoring New York 21-8 in fast-break points.
"We've grown," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "The last two years we've been in some tough games. We've won some tough ones and we've lost. You know this team hasn't quit these last two years and it's a sign of the guys in that locker room. We're all fighting for something. We're trying to be better than a year ago."
Rookie Toney Douglas scored a season-high 23 points in his first start for the Knicks (1-8), off to their worst start since also dropping eight of nine to open the 2002-03 season. Al Harrington also had 23 and grabbed 12 rebounds, but drew loud groans from the crowd after botching a wide-open layup with a little more than 4 minutes left.
New York had trailed by 20 or more in six of its first eight games, but this time built a solid cushion despite another dismal outing from point guard Chris Duhon, who was 0 for 6 with two assists and three turnovers.
"Obviously he's going to have to play better and hopefully he'll do it," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Trailing by five, Atlanta scored 12 straight points late in the third quarter, opening a 78-71 lead on Crawford's 3-pointer with 2:50 left. Horford had a three-point play and another bucket in the run and finished with 14 points in the period, when Atlanta made 14 of 20 shots to open an 84-77 advantage.
"In the first half we missed a lot of easy shots. I did myself," Horford said. "Coach told us to stay confident and keep fighting. I think in the second half that's what we did and how we were able to pull away. We came out and were more aggressive. I think that was the difference."
Crawford and Horford had back-to-back baskets early in the fourth to extend the lead to 11 and the Knicks wouldn't get closer than eight again. The Hawks shot 54 percent for the game.
Plagued all season by slow starts, the Knicks went with another lineup change, inserting Douglas for Larry Hughes, and quickly opened a 14-7 lead. The Hawks cut it to 25-23 after one quarter, but New York used a 10-2 spurt to open a 37-27 on Harrington's follow dunk with 8:24 remaining in the half.
Hughes, who went from not playing at all to a starter to a reserve, finished with 14 points and eight assists.
"You always want to know when you're going in and what's your rotation and things like that," Hughes said. "Once you hit the court, you kind of have to get in where you fit in really and go out and make positive plays, give positive energy."
The Knicks extended the lead to 14 -- their largest of the season -- with 2 1/2 minutes to go after the second of Harrington's consecutive baskets, before Atlanta scored the final six to cut it to 54-47 at the break.
The Knicks host Golden State on Friday to finish a stretch of three straight and seven of eight games at home. ... New York was still without reserve guard Nate Robinson (sprained right ankle), who could return Friday. ... The Knicks had three six-game losing streaks last season.