The first quality victory of the Mike D’Antoni era came the way the New York Knicks used to win games: with defense.
Zach Randolph had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Knicks (4-2), who moved two games over .500 for the first time since they were 16-14 on Jan. 1, 2005. Chris Duhon added 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds in a strong all-around game.
New York’s first three victories came against Miami, Charlotte and Washington, none of which have winning records. The Jazz (5-1), a Western Conference power, have as many wins as those three combined.
“We play with energy, we can compete with a lot of teams. That’s what we’ve been working on and every game continue to build on that,” Duhon said. “It’s early, but it’s good to feel good about yourself and now we continue to build onto that.”
Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 17 rebounds for Utah, which was trying to start 6-0 for the first time since the lockout-delayed 1998-99 season. Already missing injured point guard Deron Williams, the Jazz stumbled offensively in the third after fellow U.S. Olympian Boozer went to the sideline with his fourth foul.
Andrei Kirilenko had 18 points and Mehmet Okur 17 for the Jazz, who were opening a five-game Eastern Conference road trip. They lost their fifth straight at Madison Square Garden.
“We didn’t do a good job of taking care of the ball,” Boozer said. “It’s our first loss and hopefully we can learn from this and move forward.”
Utah largely contained New York’s uptempo offense in the first half, so the Knicks turned around the game on the defensive end, diving for loose balls, leaping to contest shots and standing in to take charges. And they outrebounded the bigger Jazz, 44-41, winning the rebounding battle for the first time this season.
The Knicks were down by five at halftime before surging into the lead with their best defensive quarter of the season. Trailing for most of the first 2 1/2 periods, they closed the third with an 11-0 run, holding Utah scoreless over the final 4 1/2 minutes. The Jazz had two shot clock violations and committed a pair of offensive fouls in those 12 minutes.
“Defense is a lot of heart,” D’Antoni said. “We can put quickness on the floor, it’s just a matter of just pushing through certain things and I thought we did a good job defensively.”
They had help from the Jazz, who committed 22 turnovers that led to 30 points. D’Antoni noted the absence of Williams, who hasn’t played this season because of a sprained left ankle.
“Can’t worry about that,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “Nobody wants to hear about that. I don’t want to hear it, either. Deron Williams is a wonderful player. We’d love to have him back two weeks ago, but he’s not here. That doesn’t mean you just go out trying to throw the ball away.”
David Lee’s free throws tied it at 69, then Randolph and Lee had buckets before Crawford nailed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left to give the Knicks a 76-69 lead heading to the fourth.
The Knicks put it away with under 4 minutes to go, with Duhon sinking a jumper and feeding Randolph for a fast-break bucket that made it 98-86.
Crawford scored 20 in the first half, keeping the Knicks in it while his teammates struggled. He was 6-of-10; the rest of the Knicks were 9-of-34 (26 percent).
Ronnie Brewer was 5-of-6 and scored 12 points in the first quarter, leading Utah to a 29-26 lead. Crawford kept it close with 11 in the second, and the Jazz took a 54-49 advantage into halftime.
Notes: Knicks C Eddy Curry had a cortisone shot Friday to ease the pain in his sore right knee. He already had the knee drained to reduce the swelling after banging it twice in the preseason. Curry said tests revealed no structural damage, only a bone bruise, and doesn’t know when he can return. “It’s on the bone, so I guess it’s going to take some time for it to heal,” he said. “But it’s not a knee thing, so I’m not really worried about it. I don’t know much about bones and knees and all that anyway, but it’s relieving to me to know that it’s just on the bone.” … Utah has three five-game trips to the East this season.