NEW YORK — The Knicks desperately needed a win to keep pace in the playoff race, but the Washington Wizards had other ideas in a last-second 90-89 win Friday night.
The Wizards (40-36) already clinched their playoff berth for the first time since 2008 with a win in their previous game, and did all they could to make sure the Knicks (33-44) fell in the standings after briefly holding on to the eighth and final playoff seed following Wednesday night’s win.
Center Marcin Gortat said he takes great delight in playing – and winning – at Madison Square Garden.
“Everybody wants to play in this arena and everybody wants to win in this arena,” Gortat said. “It’s a great place to win. This was a good game for us to try and get ready for the playoffs.
“Tonight was playoffs basketball. It was a good game. They were a little bit physical, but we made sure to play our style of basketball. It was a great win for us.”
Washington was led by shooting guard Bradley Beal, who had 28 points (19 in the second half), and point guard John Wall, who had 19 points and nine assists, including 11 points and five assists in the first half.
Gortat, who had his troubles on the defensive end any time the Knicks went to small-ball, acquitted himself nicely on the offensive end by chipping in with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
He took great pleasure in giving Knicks center Tyson Chandler, a former league Defensive Player of the Year, all he could handle.
“Obviously, I want to take that challenge every time,” Gortat said. “I want to go up against guys who’ve won the Defensive Player of the Year. I want to challenge them and go at them and see where we’re at [at the end of the game]. I’m always fighting for my respect.”
Beal certainly has the Knicks’ respect, as he nailed the eventual game-winner for the second-straight appearance at the Garden.
The former University of Florida star converted a couple of huge plays down the stretch.
He converted a three-point play after he dunked on shooting guard JR Smith and nailed the free throw with 2:16 left to give the Wizards an 86-84 lead.
The and-one followed an ill-advised 3-pointer by Smith, who then compounded matters by fouling a streaking Beal in the act of the dunk.
Beal followed that by making a 15-foot jumper with 22.9 seconds remaining in regulation to give the final margin of victory.
Washington’s head coach, Randy Wittman, marveled at the 20-year old’s poise.
“When a guy gets hot like that, you’ve got to ride the pony,” Wittman said.
Despite the defensive breakdown in the final stages of the game, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson still thought his squad played impressive lock-down defense.
“Guys were committed and were locked in, as they’ve been throughout this stretch and it should’ve been the difference,” said Woodson.
“Our defense was pretty solid. Our guys competed and it was a hard-fought game. Both teams struggled to shoot the ball … we just fell short.”
Woodson said he felt confident down the stretch, especially after a key sequence that ended with a clutch 3-pointer from point guard Raymond Felton.
Small forward Carmelo Anthony, who suffered through his worst performance of the season, made a big assist when he passed out of a triple-team and found Felton all alone on the wing.
The ailing lead guard deftly nailed a 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds remaining in regulation. The bucket gave the Knicks an 89-88 lead.
Alas, the sequence came in vain, as Anthony had a chance for the win in the waning seconds following Beal’s shot but lost control of the ball, leaving Smith to heave a desperation 3-pointer at the horn that was off the mark.
That was about the only time Smith fell short as he carried the Knicks’ offense. The often-erratic swingman had a game-high 32 points, including 19 in the first half, on 12-of-22 shooting. He also knocked down a game-high eight 3s, which were three more than what the entire Wizards’ roster could produce.
NOTES: The Wizards swept the season series, making it just the second time ever that has happened. … Washington earned its 20th road win of the season, the first time since the 1982-82 season. … SG J.R. Smith continued his torrid stretch by knocking down a game-high eight 3s. … Smith has been on a tear since he was inserted into the starting lineup on March 3. Heading into tonight’s game, the mercurial shooting guard had started the last 16 games and averaged 16.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s also shot 46 percent from the field, including 42 percent behind the arc. … Wizards SG Bradley Beal has been equally impressive as a starter, as the second-year player came into the game averaging a respectable 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists, while knocking down 42 percent of his 3-pointers. … PF Amar’e Stoudemire continued his hot streak by scoring 12 of his 16 points in the third quarter. … Knicks’ PG Raymond Felton, who suffered contused ribs and back after a hard fall on Wednesday, made the start. Although he dished out seven assists, he added very little else by registering just nine points on 2-of-8 shooting. … Knicks’ head coach Mike Woodson said during his pre-game press conference that neither PF Kenyon Martin nor PF Andrea Bargnani have gotten back on the practice court yet and is still “not sure” if either will return this season.
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