Salt Lake City, UT – J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton paced a short-handed Knicks offense and New York salvaged a messy five-game road trip with a 90-83 victory the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
After dropping the first four games of the west coast trek by an average of 20 points, the Knicks were able to hold on late and cling to their one-game lead in the Atlantic division over the Brooklyn Nets, who defeated the Pistons earlier on Monday.
Smith scored 20 points, Felton added 19 and Chris Copeland finished with 14 for New York, which has been without All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler for the last three games due to knee injuries.
"It was a great win for our ball club. To come to Utah, it is hard to win here and to play a good team who has played well at home and to be shorthanded like we were, we stepped up," said Knicks head coach Mike Woodson.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were held to 10 and 12 points, respectively, against an undersized New York front line. Gordon Hayward scored a team-high 17 points in defeat, which snapped a three-game home winning streak.
"I thought we played hard. We competed, but we just fell a little short. That was a tough one to lose," Hayward said.
Forty-year-old Kurt Thomas had a lot to do with the Knicks defensive effort inside. Despite battling through a right-foot injury, the 18-year-veteran logged a season-high 27 minutes and registered three blocks, including a swat early in the fourth to help New York create separation.
Thomas' rejection led to a 3-pointer from Felton, who found the stingy big man for a layup at the 4:32 mark to give the Knicks their largest lead of the game at 84-76.
Mo Williams responded with a triple and a fadeaway jumper to bring the Jazz within three, but Smith's long pull up jumper two possessions later proved to be a dagger before New York closed the contest out with free throws.
Along with Copeland's 11 points before halftime, the Knicks also managed to generate offense with 21 points off 14 first half turnovers from the Jazz.
However, after Copeland followed back-to-back corner three's from Iman Shumpert with a layup to give New York a 42-36 lead, the Jazz took a two-point edge into halftime by closing out the final 1:56 with an 8-0 run.
Utah then upped their advantage to six at 58-52 in the third after Hayward sparked a 12-2 run with a 3-pointer, but Smith spearheaded a 14-5 push with eight points to put New York on top, 66-63, going into the fourth.
The Knicks ended a five-game losing streak in Utah, where they had not won since Nov. 14, 2005 ... New York won the battle in the paint, 34-22 ... Jefferson also had 11 rebounds ... Kenyon Martin had nine points and nine rebounds for the Knicks.