The chant of "Lar-ry, Lar-ry, Lar-ry" made its Madison Square Garden debut Friday night in the final seconds of another Knicks victory. Larry Brown may be eight games under .500 as New York's coaching savior but he is apparently the NBA's most beloved 13-21 head coach.
"I heard it," Brown said after the Knicks' 105-94 victory over the Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to six games and gave Brown his 1,000th career NBA win. "I grew up coming to this place. I never imagined that would ever happen to me. Obviously, that was very special."
Jeff Van Gundy first received similar treatment but that was when the Knicks were beating the Atlanta Hawks in a playoff series, not in a January regular-season game. It just proves how starved Knicks supporters are for a winner.
No team is winning more in 2006 than the Knicks, who remain unbeaten in the New Year and continue to gain confidence with every victory. Two weeks ago, Brown and Stephon Marbury were feuding again and the Knicks' record was a league-worst 7-21.
Now, the head coach can't conduct a press conference without throwing compliments at his point guard. Friday night, Marbury had 19 points, nine assists and four steals while having to guard Joe Johnson, who is as good as any young player in the league. "I told him how proud I was of him," Brown said. "Of all the games he's played this year, this is by far the best because of the matchup that he had, the condition that he was in and the things that he did. It was a special game."
Brown didn't elaborate on Marbury's condition, but it's no secret that Marbury, who doesn't have a true backup, has played a lot of minutes. He also suffers from knee tendinitis, which is common for most veteran players. But to his credit, Marbury has never used injury, fatigue or illness for excuses. "I was kind of tired tonight, but I play," Marbury said. "When I get on the court that is all I do. I love basketball. Mentally, I just had to get my mind in another place."
Sacrifice was a common trait for the Knicks Friday night. Nate Robinson pulled a Charles Oakley in the second half, diving headfirst over celebrity row after failing to grab a loose ball. Later, Eddy Curry was seen sacrificing his 6-11, 285-pound frame for a free ball. "Those are some of the things we weren't doing when we were losing," said Curry, who scored 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Jamal Crawford had another strong game off the bench, scoring 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting, while Robinson scored 17 despite coming up inches short on a dunk. Robinson injured his back during Wednesday's win over Dallas and couldn't get that extra bounce.
"I wanted it," Robinson said. "I'm still waiting for that first dunk at the Garden."
Brown has stuck with the same starting lineup - Marbury, Robinson, Curry, David Lee, Antonio Davis - for seven straight games and has finally settled on a rotation. He's also had to make some tough decisions. Disgruntled second-year forward Trevor Ariza was placed on the inactive list while Isiah Thomas' two biggest offseason acquisitions - Quentin Richardson and Jerome James - both recorded DNPs. "All that matters is winning," said Richardson, who has conducted himself like a professional throughout what has been a trying season.
The Knicks are a different team than the one that gave up 71 first-half points last month to Atlanta in a game in which Johnson scored 36 and Al Harrington scored 35. Friday night, they finished with nine and 18, respectively, although someone with the Hawks should be reprimanded for Johnson getting just 14 shots. Atlanta's head coach, Mike Woodson, a Brown disciple, has his own problems. The team drafted small forward Marvin Williams when point guard Chris Paul was the better choice. Another small forward, Josh Smith, spends half the game sulking.
Despite Atlanta's flaws, the Hawks led 78-77 with 10:54 left to play. But Crawford answered right back, getting an open three against Atlanta's zone. Over the next two minutes, Atlanta twice drew even, but after Harrington's jumper made it 84-all, the Knicks scored six straight points and eventually went ahead by 10.
"I've been blessed with players I've had the privilege to coach, as well as coaches that have taught me," said Brown, who is 1,000-762 in 23 seasons as an NBA coach and joined former Knick coaches Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only men to reach 1,000 victories. "I know every time something good happens to me, those people are happier than I am."
In other NBA action: Washington 94, Indiana 85; Minnesota 103, Denver 89; New Orleans 90, Sacramento 76; Memphis 81, New Jersey 69; Milwaukee 103, Charlotte 102; Philadelphia 125, Boston 124, 3OT; Portland 113, Orlando 108; Miami 117, Seattle 104.