PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As Amare Stoudemire walked into the New York locker room with a towel over his shoulders, the coaching staff followed. When the door closed, one jubilant voice inside screamed: “How `Bout Those Knicks!”
How about `em, indeed.
Fueled by a dose of Linsanity and a timely coaching change, the Knicks are making a furious charge toward a division title. Knocking off a 76ers team in full swoon was the latest step.
Stoudemire had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead the Knicks to their fifth straight victory, 82-79 over fading Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
Jeremy Lin scored 16 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Carmelo Anthony had 10 to help the Knicks pull within three games of the Atlantic Division leaders and clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“It’s been our goal,” Anthony said. “That’s never changed.”
The game ended with thousands of New York fans chanting, “Let’s go Knicks!” They had reason to celebrate after Stoudemire hit a pair of big buckets down the stretch to clinch the win. The Knicks scored fewer than 83 points in a win for the first time since Nov. 14, 2005, vs. Utah (73-62).
Linsanity has turned into Winsanity as the Knicks are unbeaten since Mike D’Antoni stepped down exactly a week earlier.
“I was sweating a little bit tonight,” interim coach Mike Woodson said. “But I learned that my team is not going to buckle, and I honestly believe that they believe they can win any game that they play now.”
Elton Brand had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers. Jrue Holiday scored 16. This could be a crushing week for the Sixers with Boston set to visit on Friday. The Celtics are only a game back for the division lead and an automatic top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“You’ve got to look at the division right now. Have to,” Brand said. “We have to step up, win some games, and find a way to get some separation from New York and Boston.”
Each team was backed by a Hollywood heavyweight supporter: Co-owner Will Smith rooted on the Sixers and Spike Lee sat adjacent to the Knicks bench. Smith and Lee exchanged some laughs, and Smith pointed to his black 76ers cap when he was shown on the big screen in front of 20,470 fans.
The Sixers shook off a miserable start and a double-digit hole to make a run at the Knicks in the fourth. Lou Williams, perhaps the NBA’s best sixth man, nailed a 3-pointer that tied the game at 63-all.
Stoudemire, though, returned the favor with a monster dunk and a loud roar that was gleefully met with cheers by all the Knicks fans. Stoudemire hit a pull-up jumper next time down and the Knicks led by four.
Lin followed with a runner and Lee, wearing a No. 17 jersey, leapt from his seat and applauded as the Knicks ran his way for a timeout.
Lin delivered from the free throw line, sinking two for an eight-point lead, then feeding Anthony for a 16-footer that gave the Knicks the breathing room they needed. Lin was 10 for 10 from the line.
The Sixers kept coming, and nearly turned the game around in the final 2 minutes. Trailing by three, Brand blocked Lin’s shot that led to a fast-break attempt for Andre Iguodala. Iguodala missed the layup, and the empty possession would finish off the Sixers.
For good measure, Iguodala shot an airball in the final minute.
“We have to do a better job of being a better unit,” Iguodala said.
Meanwhile, the orange and blue took over, and chanted for the Knicks, completing a double-dose of defeat for Philadelphia.
The Sixers never led and trailed by as many as 12 points when they finally found a groove in the third. Thaddeus Young’s dunk pulled them within two and Iguodala buried a 3-pointer from the corner — only his third basket — for a 49-48 lead.
Philadelphia was invaded by a fleet of Knicks fans that gave this one a postseason feel — for Madison Square Garden.
But the Sixers fans came alive along with their team and went wild when, after the Sixers blew the lead, Williams nailed a 3 to pull them to 59-58 to end the quarter.
Only 10 days earlier, the Sixers handed the Knicks their fifth straight loss, 106-94. Stoudemire sat alongside Anthony for the entire fourth quarter.
Both were needed this time around, especially with Lin having a miserable first three quarters. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots and had only two assists — one on a long pass to a streaking Anthony for a thunderous dunk.
Lin wasn’t the only scorer who couldn’t buy a bucket. Iguodala, who averages 12.2 points, didn’t score his first field goal until there was 45 seconds left in the first half. He scored 13 points.
Of course, Linsanity is so 15 minutes ago now that Tebowmania headlines New York.
“I’m just excited for him and to see what he does,” Lin said after the Jets acquired Tim Tebow. “We’ll see what happens next year. But I’m excited, obviously, that he’s going to be in New York.”
The Sixers missed their first 14 shots — Spencer Hawes even fired an airball on the 10th attempt — and committed five turnovers in the first quarter.
“Never seen anything like that before. 0-14?” Brand said.
The only part more amazing than their futility from the court was that they only trailed by eight points.
The Knicks did their part at the end.
“We’re building, we’re getting better, we’re feeling more confident,” Lin said. “We’re creating a team identity.”
Notes: Knicks G Baron Davis returned after sitting out two games with a strained right hamstring. “I want to make myself available,” he said. … Knicks F Jared Jeffries left in the fourth quarter with a sore right knee. … Flyers Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds sat courtside. Hartnell tossed shirts into the crowd. … The Sixers are 6-12 after a 20-9 start.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)