Knicks' defense delivers in must-win

NEW YORK -- It was only one play, but it typified the defensive intensity that transformed the Knicks on the night Carmelo Anthony delivered on his "must-win" premise.

In overtime, Hedo Turkoglu had the ball far outside the 3-point arc, near midcourt, and Anthony was absolutely hounding him and would not stop as the shot clock ticked down. The relentlessness -- hands poking at the ball, body pressed up close -- did not cease, and Turkoglu ultimately had to let fly from 35 feet away with a hand in his face.

Defensive intensity like this had not been seen from the New York Knicks in weeks, and it was the key factor (aside from Anthony's 39 points) that fueled the Knicks on Monday night as they snapped their six-game losing streak by defeating the Orlando Magic 113-106.

Was it a matter of pride?

Of shame?

Coach Mike D'Antoni didn't buy the latter theory.

"No, heck, that's hard. That's tough," D'Antoni said. "No, it's a product of we're in trouble.

"We just kept ratcheting it up. Again, a lot of games, a lot of nights, a lot of things, and who knows what causes it. Sometimes things sap your energy and you might not even be aware of it, but with efforts like this, the team will come together, and we'll be better for it."

The Knicks held the Magic to 18 first-quarter points, the first time since Dec. 5 against Toronto they held an opponent to that low a total in a first quarter. Dwight Howard did not have a single field goal in the first half despite the Knicks starting with Shawne Williams as the primary defender on him, later switching to Jared Jeffries, Shelden Williams and finally Amare Stoudemire in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Howard ended up getting his numbers (29 points, 18 rebounds), but the Knicks' ability to keep him from hurting them in the beginning when they went with a small starting lineup buoyed their confidence and boosted their energy, helping those qualities stick through the second half and the overtime when every deflected pass and every loose ball they made an extra effort for helped make the ultimate difference.

"If we can hold teams down defensively, with the offensive players we have somebody [who] can step up and have a big game. And that's exactly what happened. Melo was out of sight tonight, and defensively we did a good job of taking away some things," said Chauncey Billups, whose own defensive performance was helped by the fact that he did not have to chase Jameer Nelson (sprained knee), who was as much of a difference-maker on offense back when the teams met March 1 as Anthony was Monday.

But back to the question of whether this was a product of pride or shame.

When you allow the second-worst offensive team in the NBA to score 64 points in the first half, as the Knicks allowed the Charlotte Bobcats to do Saturday, that is shameful.

When you allow the worst offensive team in the NBA to score 35 first-quarter points, as the Knicks allowed the Milwaukee Bucks to do two games ago, that, too, is shameful.

When the lane to the basket is virtually undefended, when layup after layup and dunk after dunk deflates not only the team's collective ego, but the whole city's attitude toward the franchise, that, too, is indeed shameful.

That's the kind of stuff that had been defining the Knicks as a defensive unit, but it changed for one night against one of the East's best teams. You could see it as early as the first quarter when one particularly deflection-driven defensive possession ended with Anthony stripping the ball from Howard after Anthony had just grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds on the other end.

Not that the Knicks were throwing around that "sh" word.

They preferred the "p" word.

"That was probably a product of pride and determination. We knew this game was very important for us. We wanted to snap the losing streak, wanted to really get on the right track and get us geared up for the playoffs," Stoudemire said.

The Knicks forced 21 turnovers, outrebounded the Magic on the offensive boards 11-9 and held them to 45 percent shooting.

And here's the topper: That first half when they held Howard without a field goal?

Nobody had done that to Howard since the Boston Celtics, a team renowned for its defensive intensity, did it to him on Christmas.

"You just draw a line in the sand and you're going to kick somebody's ass tonight, and you got to do it. And if you do it, you have another chance to do it Wednesday," D'Antoni said. "So I don't really dwell on what happened before. We have to take this and move forward. And again, we've been here before. We were like this against Miami. We just can't let it slip away."