Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points for the second straight game, including the tiebreaking jumper with 1:08 left, and the New York Knicks rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat the New Jersey Nets 120-116 on Wednesday night.
Chauncey Billups added 33 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points for the Knicks, who have won two in a row after a six-game losing streak and trimmed their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three.
Anthony scored only two points in the fourth quarter after a 20-point third, but it was the basket the Knicks needed in the first meeting since they beat out the Nets in the race to acquire the All-Star forward.
Deron Williams had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his return from a six-game absence with an injured wrist, but was short on a potential tying jumper in the final seconds and appeared hurt again after going down trying to chase down his miss.
Anthony Morrow scored a season-high 30 points to lead the Nets. Brook Lopez added 26 points and Kris Humphries finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, but New Jersey came up short in a game it desperately wanted to win.
With the Nets making their first national TV appearance since the 2007-08 season in the ESPN contest and facing their closest rival, guard Sasha Vujacic on Tuesday said the game was "probably the biggest of the season."
"I heard Vujacic already say this is the biggest game of their season so far, so it's the biggest one of our season too, Vujacic," Anthony said after the Knicks' morning shootaround.
Anthony again called it a "must win," just as he had before Monday's victory over Orlando. And he again also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Knicks, who got big contributions in the fourth quarter from Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter, who came with Anthony and Billups in the trade from Denver.
The Knicks had surged to a five-point lead before Deron Williams rallied the Nets. He followed a bucket by Lopez by converting a three-point play to tie it at 107, and after a jumper by Carter, Williams knocked down another jumper before adding another three-point play to give the Nets a 112-109 lead with 3:28 remaining.
Billups made three free throws to tie it at 114 before Anthony's first basket of the fourth quarter, a short pull-up jumper, put the Knicks back ahead 116-114 with 1:08 to play. Lopez missed a short jumper, and the Nets missed a chance to retain possession when the ball was batted off his back out of bounds while he was trying to pick up a sneaker that had fallen off.
Toney Douglas hit two free throws before Deron Williams' basket made it 118-116. Anthony missed a jumper, but so did Deron Williams after a timeout. Billups then closed it out with two free throws with 2 seconds remaining.
Despite the teams' proximity, there has never been much of a rivalry, since they have rarely been good at the same time — and neither have been lately.
But they battled most of the season off the court in pursuit of Anthony. The Nets twice thought they were close to a deal with Denver, but Anthony never said if he would have agreed to a contract extension if dealt to New Jersey. In the end, the Nuggets went with the Knicks' package, but the Nets bounced back quickly by acquiring Williams from Utah in a surprising deal the next day.
With their All-Star point guard back in the lineup, the Nets relished their chance to delay the Knicks' march toward a playoff spot. Told of Vujacic's comments, Nets coach Avery Johnson said, "Good. So hopefully we'll come out roaring like lions."
Lopez did, scoring 16 points in the first quarter to lead New Jersey to a 36-30 advantage. The Nets extended the lead to 50-34 on Jordan Farmar's three-point play with 7:59 remaining in the half, and they remained comfortably ahead until a late New York flurry trimmed it to 68-58 at the break.
The Knicks quickly cut it to one in the third before three straight 3-pointers, two by Williams, pushed it back to 10. Anthony then scored 11 of New York's next 13 points and 20 in the period as New Jersey's lead was down to 92-91 going to the fourth.
Notes: A USA Basketball representative was at the game to present Billups with his ring for helping the U.S. winning last summer's world championship. The presentation had been scheduled for Denver on the night Billups was traded to the Knicks. ... Johnson said F Quinton Ross (herniated disc) had seen one surgeon and would see another Monday. Johnson wouldn't rule him out for the season, but said it's unlikely he'd play again.