When the New York Knicks signed Kenyon Martin last month, they hoped the veteran big man might help them with a playoff push.
Left short-handed by a rash of frontcourt injuries, the Knicks are suddenly counting on Martin more than they ever imagined. Best of all, he's coming up big.
Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, Martin had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and the Knicks clinched a playoff berth with a 99-94 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
"He means a lot to this team right now," Anthony said of Martin, his one-time Denver teammate. "We need him coming down the stretch."
Making his fifth straight start, Martin connected on his first nine field goal attempts, not missing until 1:40 remained in the fourth quarter.
"He stepped up big time," New York coach Mike Woodson said. "He scored for us, he rebounded, had a few blocks. He did a little bit of everything."
Veteran guard Jason Kidd, who once played with Martin in New Jersey, said the 35-year-old has been an invaluable addition following injuries to big men Amare Stoudemire (right knee), Tyson Chandler (neck), Kurt Thomas (right foot) and Rasheed Wallace (left foot).
"He's a true professional," Kidd said. "If we didn't have him we would be in trouble right now. He's playing big on both ends."
Out of basketball before the Knicks came calling, Martin said he considers himself "blessed" to be back on the court and playing for a contender.
"I just tried to stay ready," he said. "An opportunity came for me to come out and play. It's unfortunate that it's because of injury, but I'll take it."
J.R. Smith scored 14 points as the Knicks earned their 41st win. That guaranteed they'll reach the playoffs for the third straight season, something they hadn't done since a 14-year streak of postseason appearances from 1988 to 2001.
With 15 games left and playoff seeding still undecided, Woodson doesn't want his team easing up.
"We can't have any slippage, no matter who we play, because Brooklyn is not going anywhere and Boston is not going anywhere," Woodson said.
The league's second-leading scorer, Anthony has 57 total points in his past two games after missing six of the previous eight with a sore right knee. His 43 minutes were about 10 more than Woodson had hoped he'd play, but Anthony wasn't complaining.
"I'll take on that challenge, I love that challenge, I want that challenge," he said. "I wanted to see what I could do, especially being out and not playing the way I know how to play."
The defeat was a double blow for Toronto, which lost for the 11th time in 15 games and saw forward Rudy Gay leave in the second with a sore back. Gay did not return, and his status for Saturday night's rematch in New York was not known.
Alan Anderson scored a career-high 35 points, DeMar DeRozan had 18 and Jonas Valanciunas 10 as the Raptors lost their third straight. Kyle Lowry led Toronto with 10 assists.
Down by 14 points midway through the third, the Raptors rallied to make a game of it in the fourth. A three-point play by DeRozan cut it to 84-82 with 6:17 left, but Anthony answered with a three-point play of his own, keying a 10-2 run that put the Knicks up 94-84 with 4:00 remaining.
A putback dunk by Terrence Ross cut it to 97-92 with 39 seconds left and, after Smith missed a pair of free throws, Anderson made two from the line, making it 97-94.
Anthony was fouled and made the first but missed the second, giving the Knicks a four-point edge. Jason Kidd grabbed the rebound when Ross's 3-point heave came up short, and capped it by making one of two from the line.
Chandler (neck) did not travel with the team, remaining in New York for treatment. Woodson said he doesn't know when Chandler, who last played March 13, will be cleared to return. The Knicks had earlier said they expected Chandler to miss about a week.
Raymond Felton's banked 3 gave the Knicks a 25-15 lead with two minutes left in the first but Anderson scored five straight points as the Raptors cut it to 25-22 after one.
Gay headed to the locker room with a sore back at 7:04 of the second and the Knicks pulled away. Anthony and Kidd each scored six as New York outscored Toronto 25-15 to open a 50-37 lead at the half. The Raptors made five of 20 field goal attempts in the quarter.
"We just had a lot of open misses," Anderson said. "We weren't swinging the ball from side to side like we did in the previous two games against them."
Anderson matched a Raptors record with 20 points in the third and Toronto made five of nine from 3-point range, but a turnaround, buzzer-beating 3 by Anthony gave the Knicks a 77-71 lead heading into the fourth.