NEW YORK (AP) — David Lee fought through the emotions of a return home and the pain of a former teammate’s tooth cutting into his arm.
Anything to get the type of win that too often eluded him when he used to play at Madison Square Garden.
Lee scored a season-high 28 points, Dorell Wright made two huge baskets in the final two minutes, and the Golden State Warriors improved their best start in 16 years to 6-2 by beating the Knicks 122-117 on Wednesday night.
Stephen Curry added 25 points and Monta Ellis had 22 for the Warriors, who blew a 19-point lead in the second half but were bailed out by Wright, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining and added an insurance basket a minute later.
Lee grabbed his 10th rebound after Wilson Chandler missed a tying 3-point attempt and sank two clinching free throws with 1.5 seconds left. The longtime fan favorite received a nice ovation during pregame introductions and was honored with a video tribute during a first-quarter timeout, then ended his night by jogging off to cheers after completing some postgame interviews on the court.
“It meant a lot to me, and it was a great feeling,” Lee said. “Like I said, it would have been all for nothing if we wouldn’t have won the game, because I would have come out of there very, very frustrated, especially after being up 19. So I’m happy we finished it out.”
Amare Stoudemire, who essentially replaced Lee over the summer, had a season-high 33 points for the Knicks, who lost their third straight. Chandler added 27 and Raymond Felton scored 20.
“We just can’t get comfortable with losing. That’s the mentality that we can’t have,” Stoudemire said. “So we’ve got to make sure that we understand how important it is to look at film and look at ourselves in the mirror and try to improve individually, and then ultimately we’ll get better as a team. Hopefully we all as players will understand that and move on.”
Lee briefly had to leave the game in the third quarter when he was cut after his arm crashed into Chandler’s mouth while grabbing a rebound. He returned with a white bandage near his elbow that was mostly red by the end of the game, a symbol of a tougher Warriors team.
“I saw how we played last year and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have won a game like this, especially with Amare in attack mode the whole time,” Curry said. “We were able to fight through a lot of injuries. David’s over there, got a tooth (cut) in his elbow, fighting through all of that to get a win on the road.”
Lee’s three-point play ignited a big Golden State run in the third quarter, and another basket started a second key spurt when the Knicks cut it to three early in the fourth. Things looked settled at that point, but New York took a 113-111 lead on Felton’s free throws with 2:11 remaining.
Wright then drilled his 3-pointer, and recovered a loose ball after Chandler’s block and put it back in for a 116-113 edge with 59 seconds left. A free throw by Lee gave the Warriors’ a two-score advantage, but the Knicks were back within one when Stoudemire nailed a 3 with 14 seconds to play before the Warriors closed it out from the line.
It’s Golden State’s best start since opening 7-2 in 1994-95.
Lee was a late first-round pick in 2005 who got better every year, becoming an All-Star last season when he averaged 20.9 points and 11.7 rebounds. But the Knicks were looking for something more last summer, hoping they could land two superstars from the free agency class.
Re-signing Lee would have jeopardized that, so he realized by the end of the season that he would probably be moving on. The Knicks at least helped him get richer, arranging a sign-and-trade with the Warriors that allowed him to earn a more lucrative contract that will pay him $80 million over six years.
And it’s given him a chance to experience some winning basketball for a change after he never won more than 33 games in New York. Lee entered a game at Madison Square Garden with a winning record just five times in five years with the Knicks, according to STATS, LLC.
Ellis, who came in as the NBA’s scoring leader, played 40 minutes after injuring his back two nights earlier during a fourth-quarter fall in a victory at Toronto.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said the team has been “a little tight” the last couple of games.
“Outside shots are not going. People are pressing. Little things here, little things there,” he said. “It’s going to be a little work in progress. But the one thing they did tonight, they hung in there. They fought back.”
New York played without two of the three players it got back in the Lee trade. Shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike hasn’t played this season while recovering from left knee surgery, while Ronny Turiaf, who was provided an inside presence off the bench, was out with a sprained left knee. Anthony Randolph was scoreless in 7 1/2 minutes.
Notes: Knicks president Donnie Walsh said he would probably have a procedure on his hip next week while the Knicks are on a road trip out West. Walsh said it was unrelated to the surgery he had in June to remove a spur on his vertebra. He no longer requires a wheelchair and said the hip procedure was not serious but rather to help balance his walking. Walsh added he’s had a bad hip for a long time, joking that “anybody who played for Dean Smith probably had them because you were always diving on the floor for loose balls,” and believes getting it done now will allow him to get back on the road again. … Lee had the best game of his career against the Warriors here two seasons ago, recording career bests of 37 points and 21 rebounds in the Knicks’ victory.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)