The Dallas Mavericks entered Madison Square Garden posing the biggest threat the Jeremy Lin-led Knicks have faced yet. With one of the league's best defenses and six straight wins in their wake, the Mavs seemed like more than the short-handed Knicks -- whose own win streak had just ended with a rotten loss to New Orleans -- could handle for four quarters. New York responded with a blazing start and a defiant finish, the combination of which proved enough for a momentous 104-97 win in front of a rambunctious Garden crowd.
The game began with Lin and his Knicks badly out-gunning the Mavs. Lin repeatedly worked his way to buckets despite the spindly interference of Shawn Marion and a rotating cast of help defenders. When the Mavs collapsed into the paint, Lin kicked to J.R. Smith, the Knick so new to the club that Mike D'Antoni claimed he let the Knicks more or less improvise while Smith was on the floor (D'Antoni's hardly ever serious but never quite kidding). Smith, probably still jet-lagged from his extended stay in China, wasn't even expected to spin much, but ended up entering in the mid-first quarter and logging a solid 29 minutes off the bench. He came out firing, too, turning Lin's dimes into three-cent pieces from outside. Smith drained three threes in the early going and boosted the Knicks to a 12-point first quarter lead.
When Lin took a seat to open the second, Dallas generated some momentum and sustained it through halftime. They cut their deficit to three going into the break, then pushed the pace to find Dirk Nowitzki easy, punishing looks to race ahead in the third. Nowitzki, barely even noticing the defense of a mismatched Iman Shumpert, dominated well into third and pulled Dallas ahead by 12 and to the verge of breaking the game open.
New York responded, though, and finished much the way they'd started. The Knicks snuck a 7-0 run into the final minute of the third quarter, then turned the longball over to Steve "Novakaine" Novak, who just couldn't feel his face. The Wisconsin-raised gunner got so rowdy from outside -- four threes in the first five minutes of the final quarter -- that he felt compelled to invoke the gesture of a hometown celebrity. And New York followed through on Novak's quarter-opening salvo. Lin hit a couple threes of his own, and Tyson Chandler anchored several crucial defensive plays to sustain the lead through the final buzzer.
The final tally for the stars: 28 points, 14 assists, five steals and seven turnovers for Lin; 34 points and five rebounds for Nowitzki. Both, conveniently enough, shot 11-20 from the field.
New York's eighth win in nine games moved them back to .500, while Dallas's first loss in a week and a half dropped them to a 20-12 record.