|New York vs Washington|
|102 - 82|
And it sure was - but it was Gilbert Arenas and crew who never had a chance.
Rookie Renaldo Balkman scored a season-high 18 points, and the New York Knicks used their best defensive performance of the season to beat the Washington Wizards 102-82 Wednesday night.
"I thought our defensive effort was great," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "That's the kind of basketball that we have to play."
Quentin Richardson made five 3-pointers and added 17 points and Stephon Marbury scored 16 for the Knicks, who won for the first time this season at Madison Square Garden and snapped a three-game losing streak.
They did it in surprising fashion, smothering the league's highest-scoring team with the kind of defensive effort that had been missing all season. New York was allowing 105.6 points, second worst in the league, and hadn't held an opponent below 100 in any of its first eight games.
But the Knicks shut down Arenas and held the Wizards to a season-worst 31.5 percent shooting while leading nearly all the way. Washington was 0-of-15 from 3-point range - tying an NBA record for futility - with Arenas missing all seven of his attempts.
"For the way we approach the game, I thought that mostly the mental aspect of it, we lost it," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "We didn't think about surviving some adversity and saying to ourselves, 'Let's get through some tough times, missed shots."'
David Lee had 10 points and 15 rebounds - 10 of those boards the fourth quarter - while teaming with Balkman and Nate Robinson to spark a strong bench effort that allowed the Knicks to simply outwork the Wizards.
"Me, Nate, Jamal (Crawford), Lee, that's all we do," Balkman said. "The second team, we try to go out there and run everybody, tire the other team."
Arenas finished with 22 points but was only 5-of-19 from the floor. Antawn Jamison added 20 and Caron Butler scored 18 on 4-of-11 shooting.
"It proves that we can play good, collective team defense," Lee said. "That's what we did tonight. We knew they had a couple of good scorers in Arenas and Jamison and we just tried to do our best to shut them down."
The game was tied at 27 early in the second quarter when Robinson scored eight points in 1:38 as the Knicks opened a six-point advantage. New York led the remainder of the half, with the lead growing to nine when Steve Francis found Marbury underneath for a layup with 36 seconds remaining.
Washington entered averaging a league-best 107.8 points per game, but shot only 36 percent in the first half and trailed 50-43.
"The way I look at it, it's mostly mental," Jordan said. "That's where it starts and that's where it ends up. We didn't say, 'Let's regroup, let's get down defensively and get some stops and get some rebounds.' We just didn't do that enough."
The Knicks pushed the lead to 11 points late in the third quarter as Balkman scored seven points in the final 1:54. They would have led by more if they hadn't been plagued by fouls in the period. Washington was only 3-of-9 from the floor, but made 20 of 23 free throws and headed to the fourth down 77-69.
Washington never got close in the fourth, with Jordan sending Arenas and Jamison to the bench after Marbury's 3-pointer made it 97-81 with a little more than 3 1/2 minutes left. Butler stayed on the floor - and had a shot blocked by Balkman in the closing seconds.
"Unfortunately they got a lot of loose balls, offensive rebounding, they just outhustled us to the end," Butler said.
Three other NBA teams went 0-of-15 from 3-point range, with Milwaukee the last on Jan. 22, 2002. ... The Wizards won three of the four meetings last season, including a 110-89 victory on Feb. 25 when Arenas scored 46 points in only 30 minutes. ... A pair of stars who played in the Garden, Charles Oakley (Knicks) and Mark Messier (Rangers), had front-row spots on a night when there were plenty of empty seats. Oakley got a loud ovation from the crowd of 14,836. ... Robinson, the slam dunk champion at All-Star weekend, blew an alley-oop dunk early in the fourth quarter.