Phil Jackson took in his first game as Knicks president and received a standing ovation when he was introduced. He stood and waved in appreciation and had to like the way the Knicks defended and closed out the game.
Jackson also had to appreciate the way Carmelo Anthony lifted his and his teammates' play down the stretch.
After nearly squandering an early 16-point lead, the Knicks finished off the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers, 92-86 last night at Madison Square Garden for their season-high seventh straight win.
One day after Jackson said Anthony is a part of the future, he scored 34 points -- 20 of them in the second half -- and had five assists to help keep the Knicks' slim playoff hopes alive.
"The teams that we play, we feel like they're in our way,'' Anthony said. "That's our motto right now.''
The Knicks (28-40) are four games behind Atlanta for the last playoff spot, but five back in the loss column with 14 to play. Six of their next seven are on the road, including a five-game West Coast trip, so the Knicks have an uphill climb.
But they continue to show passion, urgency and resolve that was missing earlier this season.
"These last couple of weeks we've been playing with that focus, that energy, that hunger,'' Anthony said.
Amar'e Stoudemire had another strong game with 21 points and Tyson Chandler grabbed 14 rebounds.
Lance Stephenson led Indiana (50-18) with 21 points. Roy Hibbert scored 20, and All-Star forward Paul George had 17, but shot just 4-for-17.
After the Pacers got it to 67-66 early in the fourth, the Knicks answered with eight straight points and took a 75-66 lead on a Stoudemire hook shot in the lane with 7:57 to go.
Later, Indiana drew within 80-76. But Anthony scored six straight Knicks to make it 86-77. A Stephenson three-pointer cut it to six with 1:54 left, and it stayed that way until Anthony fed Raymond Felton for a jump shot for an 88-80 lead with 62 seconds remaining.
"We held our composure,'' Mike Woodson said.
Jackson has been watching the Knicks from his home in Southern California since November and saw a team that experienced "a few highs and a bunch of lows.'' But if the Knicks weren't in the position they're in, Jackson may not have the position he has.
He visited the Knicks' practice facility yesterday to meet with Mike Woodson and his staff and addressed the players in the locker room before the game.
"It was short and quick,'' Anthony said. "He came in and spoke, shook everybody's hand, said how excited he was about this opportunity and told us to focus on the game.''
Anthony, who will be a free agent this summer, said "it was good to hear'' that Jackson called him part of the future. But everyone is auditioning for jobs now, and change will come after the season.
But Jackson, who won a record 11 NBA titles as a coach, said don't expect the Knicks to become contenders overnight.
He said that said over the next month or two, he would meet and speak with the basketball staff and Garden executives to get a better feeling for how things are run and how he can implement his plan to turn the Knicks into a championship-caliber team.
"That gives me a lot of excitement, hope, just being able to have him here with me right now,'' Anthony said. "He's a genius. He's a basketball guru. He's done it so many times, so many ways, in so many different situations. Hopefully, he can do the same things here.''