NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points and the New York Knicks opened the Phil Jackson era by beating the Indiana Pacers 92-86 Wednesday night for their season-high seventh straight victory.
With their new team president watching from a midcourt seat, the Knicks dominated the first half, then pulled away after the Eastern Conference leaders finally got untracked in the second half.
Fans stood to cheer Jackson in the first quarter and were on their feet again in the final minute to watch the Knicks beat the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
Lance Stephenson had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Pacers, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and failed to extend their three-game lead over the Miami Heat, who lost to Boston earlier Wednesday. Roy Hibbert scored 20 on 8-of-10 shooting, but All-Star Paul George missed all six first-quarter shots and finished 4 for 17 for his 17 points.
New York’s previous six wins had all come against non-playoff teams, but this was against a team that seemingly had returned to form after dropping a season-worst four in a row.
Amare Stoudemire added 21 points and Tyson Chandler grabbed 14 rebounds for the Knicks, who are four games behind Atlanta for the final East playoff spot.
Jackson met with coaches and players earlier Wednesday, then watched the game from a seat above center court, receiving a loud standing ovation when shown on the overhead screen during a first-quarter timeout.
The 11-time champion as a coach also was on the Knicks’ only two title-winning teams as a player, and there was a different energy in the building during what’s been a hugely disappointing season before recent days.
Mike Woodson said before the game he wasn’t angry that Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan had originally talked to Jackson in December about the coaching job, adding that “the city should be buzzing” over his return. (Not all of it is; a group of fans frustrated with Dolan’s mismanagement of the franchise went through with a previously planned protest outside the arena before the game).
Anthony said he was excited about the hire, but that it was difficult to think about that with the players trying to focus on the game as they try to make a late run for a playoff spot.
Hibbert scored 14 points in the third quarter to help Indiana wipe out nearly all of a 16-point deficit, and it was just a one-point game early in the fourth when George made just his second field goal. But the Knicks answered with eight in a row, going ahead 75-66 on Stoudemire’s basket with 7:57 remaining, and Anthony spun for a dunk and knocked down a jumper for consecutive scores after Indiana trimmed it to five with under 4 minutes to go.
Woodson improved to 45-16 in March and April as Knicks coach, but New York faces an uphill climb to dig out of the hole a 2-11 February created.
The Knicks shot 24 percent in the first quarter, missing all five 3-point attempts, but had a 21-14 lead after going 9 of 10 from the free throw line.
New York ran off 12 in a row to open its biggest lead at 39-23 on Stoudemire’s basket midway through the second, and the Pacers could only trim that to 47-35 at halftime
NOTES: Andrew Bynum will be out the rest of the week resting his sore right knee. The center aggravated his troublesome knee after playing Saturday against Detroit, his second appearance since signing with the Pacers. He has averaged 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds thus far. … Indiana won both earlier meetings and was trying to sweep the series for the first time since 2007-08.