NEW YORK >> The New York Knicks are still trying to learn how to make winning plays down the stretch, no matter the opponent.
For starters, how to hold big leads in the fourth quarter. Or to make sure not to foul 3-point shooters. Or to limit easy opportunities at the free throw line.
They did none of this Sunday night and still escaped with a win over one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Kristaps Porzingis scored 30 points, Doug McDermott added 23 off the bench and the Knicks withstood a late push from the Atlanta Hawks for a 111-107 victory.
New York coach Jeff Hornacek stopped short of feeling relieved, one night after a road loss to the NBA-worst Chicago Bulls. His team managed to hold off a fourth-quarter rally by the Hawks, who have the second-worst record in the league.
“It’s never easy to win in the NBA no matter what the other team’s record is,” Hornacek said. “We’re still trying to learn things. I thought the end of the game was a good learning lesson for us.”
The Knicks appeared to have the game put away after three straight points from Jarrett Jack and Porzingis gave them a 101-92 lead with 3:46 left.
The Hawks then scored five consecutive points, including three free throws from Marco Belinelli, who was fouled as he attempted to hoist a 3-pointer, to make it 103-100 with 1:40 remaining. Porzingis answered with a quick basket at the other end to extend the Knicks’ lead 105-100 before Ersan Ilyasova’s layup drew Atlanta within three with 1:18 to play.
But the Knicks allowed the Hawks to make it interesting.
Jack was able to hit only one of two free throws, making it 109-106 with seven seconds left. Isaiah Taylor brought up the ball up the court and lost control of it near halfcourt before Kent Bazemore recovered. Bazemore was fouled with three seconds to go. After making the first free throw, he purposely missed the second one, but Porzingis sealed it with two free throws of his own.
“We made that game a lot more interesting down the stretch than we should have,” Jack said. “You know, we should have been able to close that thing out with two minutes to go and kind of been able to walk out of there kind of comfortable, feeling good and ready to move on to the next one.”
Jack scored a season-high 19 points for a Knicks team that had lost six of eight, including a 116-104 defeat at Atlanta on Nov. 30.
Despite sitting out the last eight minutes of the game, Dennis Schroder scored 21 points to lead Atlanta. Ilyasova added 20 for the Hawks, who are 3-11 away from home. Taurean Prince had 17 points and eight rebounds.
“Tough loss on the road,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve just got to keep competing for more of the 48 minutes and stay together . and find a way to win on the road in a tough environment.”
The Hawks led 75-71 after Miles Plumlee’s jumper with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
Porzingis answered with a pair of free throws that sparked an 11-0 run during a four-minute span. It ended with two free throws from Lance Thomas that increased New York’s lead to 82-75 with 10:33 remaining in the fourth.
Atlanta missed six shots and committed two turnovers during that stretch before Schroder’s layup with 9:53 left. The Hawks outscored the Knicks 7-2 to cut the margin to 84-82 with 9:04 to go.
Hawks: Rookie power forward John Collins, who has been out due to a left shoulder strain sustained on Nov. 30, worked out before the game at Madison Square Garden. The 20-year-old first-round pick from Wake Forest was averaging 11.5 points and 7.1 rebounds and had started four straight games before going down with the injury.
Knicks: Porzingis had eight rebounds. … Ron Baker, who has fallen down the depth chart at point guard, logged a season-high 31 minutes, giving the Knicks a nice lift as they went with a small lineup down the stretch. The fan favorite scored nine points, including four free throws during 10 minutes of play in the final period.
The Knicks improved to 7-2 when Porzingis scores 30 or more points.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
The Hawks are winless in the second game of a back-to-back, going 0-6 so far this season. Atlanta has eight more sets of back-to-back games on its schedule.
Hawks: At the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
Knicks: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.