Knicks mount huge fourth-quarter comeback but Bucks hold on


MILWAUKEE — The last two men to jump directly from their NBA playing careers into head-coaching roles sat on opposite benches, sweating out a crazy finish they recently might have helped decide on the court.

Jason Kidd is with his second team in as many seasons since joining that new profession, and his Bucks held off a frantic fourth-quarter comeback bid to edge Derek Fisher and the Knicks, 117-113, on Tuesday night at Bradley Center.

Kidd, who will return to Brooklyn on Wednesday for the first time since forcing his way from the Nets to the Bucks over the summer, said beforehand that his lone focus was defeating the Knicks, another of his former teams. His athletic and much-improved squad initially backed up its new coach in cruising to a 26-point lead in the third quarter. But the young Bucks flushed all but two points of that cushion in the closing seconds before holding on to send Fisher’s Knicks (3-9) to their latest loss, following a one-game reprieve with a win Sunday over Denver.

Bucks' John Henson dunks next to Carmelo Anthony.Tom Lynn/AP
Bucks’ John Henson dunks next to Carmelo Anthony.

“Coach challenged us at halftime to go out there and play hard and see what happens,” J.R. Smith said. “For some reason it’s something we have to be reminded of, to play hard, something that’s really embarrassing at some point. Competing shouldn’t be an issue. So they came out and played hard and it was pretty much a tie game, and the second quarter they just kicked into another gear. For some reason we wait until we’re down to start playing.”

Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 26 points, returned to play 20 minutes in the second half after leaving the game briefly in the second quarter to have his left knee — which he acknowledged has been sore since early in the season, but insisted is “not serious” — retaped.

“As I was walking down the hall, I kept hearing them say Zaza Pachulia, and this person and (Brandon) Knight and this person. I looked up and we were down by so many,” Anthony said. “I think we kind of just lost our focus a little bit in that second quarter. They made a push, and they made a run. From there we were fighting an uphill battle.”

For the fourth consecutive game, the Knicks allowed 30 or more points in the opening quarter (the score was tied at 30 at the end of the period). But unlike Sunday, when the Knicks went on a 31-8 surge in the second quarter and beat Denver to halt a seven-game losing streak, Fisher’s team disintegrated in its own half of the court to fall behind by 17 at intermission. The Knicks again had trouble guarding on the perimeter, as the Bucks (6-5) buried 7-of-11 three-point attempts in the half.

“I think the challenge is becoming a team that believes defense is the way to win,” Fisher said. “I think our game has been celebrated for so long (as) offense and shot-making and points per game. A lot of guys seem to find their identity in offense and in shooting, and so the challenge I think for every coach in the league regardless of personnel is to convince guys that defense is actually the way you win.”

The Knicks were getting run out of the arena in the middle two quarters and trailed, 85-59, early in the third, but they cut the deficit to 15 by the end of that period. They whittled that hole to two twice in the final minute of the game, including when Anthony had an uncontested dunk with nine seconds remaining. Smith nearly stole the ensuing inbounds pass, but a video review confirmed the ball deflected out off his hand. The Bucks’ Khris Middleton then sank two free throws with 5.6 to go for the final margin.

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 of his 24 in the second half for the Knicks, and Iman Shumpert added 21 with eight rebounds and eight assists in his return after missing one game with a bruised hip. Smith remained in the starting lineup in a three-guard alignment after netting a season-best 28 points against the Nuggets, but he finished with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting.

“If we had just put a couple of good minutes in that second quarter, I kept saying they’re going to let us back in, they’re going to let us back in. Let’s just play our game,” Anthony said. “But we were down by so many, 20-something points. To try to fight back and win a game like this tonight, I don’t think the basketball gods would have allowed that to happen.”

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