The New Orleans Pelicans were hoping to start their final stretch of the season on a positive note on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.
However, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony had other ideas.
Anthony scored 42 points, including three big baskets in the final two minutes, leading New York to a 98-91 victory.
It was the first game back after the All-Star break for the Pelicans (23-30), who had gone into it by winning six of their past 10 games. The Knicks (21-33) won in the second of back-to-back games after losing Tuesday at Memphis, one in which they led by five points late.
Anthony said he didn’t want to see this one slip away.
“We were going back and forth,” he said. “We’d go up one, they’d go up one, then we made some shots and pulled away.”
Eric Gordon led New Orleans with 28 points.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams said the late stretch wasn’t all there was in a loss in which his team had a higher shooting percentage, outrebounded the Knicks and made as many free throws. However, the Pelicans turned the ball over 13 times to nine for New York.
“I thought early in the game, we were about as lax in our approach and generally soft against Carmelo,” Williams said. “A couple of times, he just backed us down and laid the ball up.”
Anthony laid one up in perhaps the biggest play of the game, but that was the result of hustle by the Knicks, who had lost six of their past seven games, many with poor play down the stretch.
Anthony picked up a loose ball kept alive by center Tyson Chandler and made a layup that put the Knicks ahead for good 92-91 with 2:01 left. Then, after Gordon missed a 3-point attempt, Anthony hit a pull-up 14-foot shot over Anthony Davis with 1:15 showing.
“I was just trying to create a little space between me an A.D., hoping I could see a little of the rim,” said Anthony, who had 18 points by halftime, scored 11 in the third and 13 in the fourth. “He’s so long and covers so much space. And I was able to make the shot.”
Often chided as a less-than-stellar defender, Anthony sealed the outcome by making a steal with 40.4 seconds left, then taking Luke Babbitt off the dribble before pulling up for an eight-foot jump shot. That ended 13 Knicks points in a row by Anthony, starting at the 7:10 mark.
His heroics came after some by the Pelicans. Trailing 88-83 with a little more than five minutes remaining, they made their move. Babbitt spinned and hit a jumper in the lane, then Brian Roberts sank a floater then drove for a layup on consecutive trips, giving the New Orleans the lead at 89-88 with 3:58 showing.
New York had led 83-70 a minute into quarter after J.R. Smith sank a 3-pointer.
However, Tyreke Evans hit a jumper and Austin Rivers followed with a drive and a 3-pointer, launching the Pelicans on an 11-0 run that pulled them to two points of the lead at 7:59.
The Knicks led 85-83 with 5:44 remaining, but then Anthony answered a drive by Babbitt with a three-point play.
“We played back-to-back games, didn’t get our flight until this morning,” Chandler said. “We had every excuse to lose this game, but we want to win now. We want to make the playoffs.”
The Pelicans had an uphill battle entering the fourth quarter, trailing 78-70 after being held in check down the stretch for the second consecutive quarter.
New Orleans had pulled to 70-68 at 3:44 of the third after Gordon made a floater in the lane and Woodson was hit with a technical foul for protesting a 3-point shot by J.R. Smith that was waived off.
However, from there, the Knicks went on a 6-0 burst, with Anthony sinking a jumper, Tim Hardaway Jr. getting a fast break dunk and Tyson Chandler a rebound dunk, pushing the score to 76-68.
Davis stole the ball from Anthony then tipped in Evans’ missed layup with 55 seconds left, ending the run. However, Anthony sank a fall-back jumper over Al-Farouq Aminu with 14 seconds left.
“I think we did a much better job with their high pick-and-roll,” Chandler said.
The Knicks took a 53-47 halftime lead by holding the Pelicans to two points in the last 4:15 seconds of the second quarter.
Knicks guard Iman Shumpert injured his left knee midway of the third quarter and did not return. … The NBA reportedly will give the Pelicans a $4.15 million disabled player salary cap exception for Ryan Anderson. They would be able to obtain a player at that figure, which is half of Anderson’s salary. The Pelicans say their receiving the exception from the league is not official, however. For that to happen, Anderson would have to be out for the season. … Starting point guard Jrue Holiday was at the Pelicans’ shoot-around practice on Wednesday morning but did not participate. He has not yet begun basketball activities, the Pelicans said. “Nothing has changed,” said coach Monty Williams. “He’s still out indefinitely.”