Momentum on defense is a powerful thing. Force an opponent into a dry spell and a team can seize an opportunity to win big games.
That's the message the Knicks have been receiving in the locker room. Judging by what they did to the Utah Jazz, it appears they are getting the message.
Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and the Knicks pulled away for a 92-83 victory on Monday night that kept them one game back of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Tyson Chandler added 15 points and nine rebounds, while J.R. Smith scored 13 points and Raymond Felton chipped in 12 points and six assists to help New York (32-43) finish 3-2 on its western trip.
Anthony knew it would be tough for the Knicks to pull it out in a traditionally tough road environment.
"Any time you play against Utah on their home court, it is always going to be a grind out there," Anthony said. "I've been playing them for years. Coming in and out here, a lot of battles and a lot of scars. They are always going to play tough."
It wasn't just Anthony willing his team to victory. The Knicks made a collective effort to clamp down on the perimeter in the second half and keep Utah from shooting its way back into the game.
New York shot 47 percent (33 of 70) from the field while holding Utah to just 39 percent (33 of 85).
"We really got into them with our perimeter play," Chandler said. "The guys did an excellent job tonight of closing off the dribble. Even when we did get beat, we would kind of stand on their hip and funnel them into a tough situation, which allowed myself, Cole (Aldrich) and some other bigs to come over and help."
Gordon Hayward scored 18 points, Alec Burks added 17 off the bench and Derrick Favors chipped in 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost for the 16th time in their last 18 contests.
Utah controlled the glass, outrebounding New York 50-38. The Jazz had a 19-7 edge in second-chance points and a 42-36 edge in points in the paint. It didn't matter in the end because Utah went ice cold in a crucial second-half stretch where it produced a single basket in 7 ½ minutes.
"We hit that little lull where we just can't score and that is the difference in the game," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It happened again tonight and we just have to keep fighting and get better."
The Knicks scored on four straight possessions during a 15-2 run in the third quarter. Chandler punctuated the spurt with a layup, giving New York a 63-55 advantage. The Knicks hit 6-of-9 shots to open the quarter.
The Jazz chipped away and tied it at 67 on Burks' 3-pointer over Anthony, but the Knicks turned up the defense to seize control.
The Jazz then made just one basket over a 7 ½-minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters as the Knicks went on a 17-2 run. Anthony drained a pair of baskets to cap the run and give New York an 84-69 lead with 9:53 left in the fourth quarter.
"He's doing a lot of the little things," New York coach Mike Woodson said. "He's done that all season. He's been there when we needed him and now everybody is starting to chip in. It doesn't matter who plays. They're really taking advantage of the minutes they're getting."
New York jumped on the Jazz quick before quickly fading in the first quarter. The Knicks hit 7-of-9 shots to open the quarter and took a 15-10 lead when Smith drained a jumper and Chandler threw down an alley-oop dunk on consecutive possessions.
The Jazz hit their first four baskets from 3-point range. The third one, from Trey Burke, put Utah in front for the first time at 18-15 and the fourth, from Hayward, put the Jazz back ahead 21-19 after Anthony made a pair of baskets to help New York reclaim the lead.
Burks made back-to-back baskets and then fed Favors for a layup to boost Utah's lead to 40-30.
New York trimmed the lead down at the free throw line when the Jazz got into foul trouble. The Knicks made 5-of-6 free throws before Smith's fadeaway 3-pointer a second before halftime cut it to 49-48.