The Knicks haven't proved that they're much better than the free-falling 76ers this season, and for nearly three quarters Monday night , they weren't.
But the Knicks finally pulled away from Philadelphia in the fourth quarter and in uncharacteristic fashion: with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. The Knicks remained very much alive in the playoff chase after winning their fourth straight game, 123-110, at the Garden.
The Knicks (25-40), who have 17 games left, are percentage points ahead of Detroit for ninth place and 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Hawks (27-35).
"We dug such a deep hole, but we're fighting,'' Mike Woodson said. "That's a good sign. From a coaching standpoint, I'm happy as hell. These guys haven't quit. We're fighting for that eight spot.''
This would have been a crushing loss if the Knicks hadn't taken control in the second half. Philadelphia (15-48) came in on a 16-game losing skid and hadn't won since Jan. 29. But the 76ers were the hungrier and more effective team early, leading by 12 in the first quarter.
"Of course, we've been in that situation numerous times this year,'' J.R. Smith said. "So just trying to chip away at it.''
The Knicks, who were without Tyson Chandler (personal reasons), took the lead for good late in the third and were up 91-85 to start the fourth with Anthony watching from the bench.
They opened the fourth quarter with a 19-4 run and took a 110-89 lead on a three-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. with 7:37 left. Anthony jumped up and waved his towel a couple of times during the burst.
Four Knicks scored at least 22 points, led by Hardaway's 28. The rookie shot 9-for-13 from the field, including 5-for-7 from three-point range.
"I love nights like this,'' Anthony said. "Four guys with 20-plus points, sharing the ball and making plays and having fun out there, taking a load off of me, I love nights like that.''
Amar'e Stoudemire started his fifth straight game, this time at center for Chandler, and scored 23 points, shooting 9-for-10 from the field. Anthony didn't shoot well (9-for-24) but had 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Smith also scored 22.
Rookie Michael Carter-Williams had 23 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for Philadelphia.
As the Knicks continue their improbable playoff chase, the 76ers are playing to get the most pingpong balls -- and have been doing a good job of it. In early January, they were 1 1/2 games ahead of the Knicks. But Philadelphia has gone 3-27 since and owns the second-worst record in the league, ahead of only the Bucks (13-50).
The Knicks, who play in Boston Wednesday night, still have an uphill climb to reach the playoffs for the fourth straight season. But they continue to take advantage of a schedule featuring sub-.500 teams.
They appeared ready to grab hold of the game in the second quarter with a 22-8 run that put them up 55-50. But the 76ers ended the half strong, tying it at 61, and then made their first two shots of the third quarter.
The Knicks answered with a 10-1 run and took a 74-67 lead with 7:59 to go. Then they gave it up in less than three minutes. But later in the third, Anthony scored seven points in a 9-0 run to give the Knicks an 87-79 edge.
"I think we really had to focus in on both ends,'' Stoudemire said. "We started a little bit slow. But we geared up in the second half.''