NEW YORK – Long after Phil Jackson acknowledged the cheering fans with a thumbs-up and then a wave, there was one more standing ovation inside Madison Square Garden.
This one went to the Knicks, a far cry from the way they were treated at home earlier this season.
Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points and New York opened the Jackson era by beating the Indiana Pacers 92-86 Wednesday night for its 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.
“With a guy like that around it creates a winning mentality, it creates an atmosphere that’s pretty golden and we’ve got to capitalize on that,” Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire said.
Fans stood for 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.
“There’s energy in the city. Bringing Phil back is huge for this franchise I think,” coach Mike Woodson said. “But I’ve got to give a lot of credit to those guys in the locker room too, because again, we’re battling. We’ve dug a hole and we’re trying to dig our way out of the hole.”
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.
“We haven’t grown our IQ as a team into improvising when teams try to throw little wrenches into our offense and that’s where we’ve got to grow offensively,” George said.
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.
“The teams that we play, we feel like they’re in our way. That’s our motto right now. They’re in our way and we don’t want to let nothing stop that,” Anthony said.
Stoudemire added 21 points and Tyson Chandler grabbed 14 rebounds for the Knicks, just 16-20 at home and 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 loud applause when he was shown on the overhead screen during a first-quarter timeout.
The 11-time champion as a coach 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 until recent days.
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 leadership of the franchise went through with a previously planned protest outside the arena before the game).
Celtics 101, Heat 96
In Boston, Rajon Rondo hit two running baseline shots in the last two minutes as the Celtics capitalized on the absence of LeBron James to beat Miami.
One night after scoring 43 points in a 100-96 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, James sat out the game with back spasms and the Heat lost for the first time in their three games without him this season.
Bulls 102, 76ers 94
In Philadelphia, D.J Augustin scored 20 points, and Taj Gibson had 19 points and 13 rebounds as Chicago handed the Sixers their 22nd straight loss.
Philadelphia is four losses shy of matching the NBA record for longest-single season losing streak.
Spurs 125, Lakers 109
In Los Angeles, Tony Parker scored 25 points, Kawhi Leonard added 22 points and 10 rebounds, and San Antonio pulled away from the Lakers for its 11th consecutive victory.
Nets 104, Bobcats 99
In New York, Deron Williams scored 23 points and Joe Johnson added 20 as Brooklyn overcame a late deficit to win its 10th straight at home.
T-Wolves 123, Mavericks 122 (OT)
In Dallas, Kevin Love scored 35 points, including the go-ahead basket in overtime, and Ricky Rubio had a triple-double as Minnesota blew several leads before hanging on to beat the Mavericks.
Raptors 107, Pelicans 100
In New Orleans, DeMar DeRozan scored 31 points and Greivis Vasquez victimized his former team with six points in the last two minutes.
Grizzlies 96, Jazz 86
In Memphis, Zach Randolph scored 21 points and Marc Gasol added 20 as the Grizzlies maintained their hold on a Western Conference playoff spot.
Nuggets 118, Pistons 109
In Denver, Aaron Brooks had 27 points and a career-high 17 assists.
Suns 109, Magic 93
In Phoenix, Goran Dragic scored 18 points to lead a balanced offense and the Suns used a big second-half run to beat Orlando.
Gerald Green added 14 points, including three 3-pointers during a 23-3 Phoenix burst that turned a close game into a runaway.