J.R. Smith gave the Knicks a lift in a rare start before Carmelo Anthony assumed his normal lead role against the Hawks.
Anthony continued his success against Atlanta by scoring 25 points and New York regrouped after blowing a 17-point lead to beat the Hawks 95-91 on Wednesday night.
It was an important win for the Knicks, who were coming off an ugly 120-89 loss to San Antonio on Sunday.
“Oh, man, it was a great way to kind of get back on track,” Anthony said. “Any time you can win on the road, that’s always a big win.”
Anthony averaged 41 points against the Hawks in two games last season, bringing his career average against Atlanta to 26.9.
Smith, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, made his first start since March 9, 2012, at Milwaukee. He came off the bench in each of his 80 games last season.
Smith was suspended the first five games this season for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program. Coach Mike Woodson said before the game he started Smith instead of Pablo Prigioni to “see if we can get off to a better start.”
Smith did his part, making three of four 3-pointers in the opening period as the Knicks took a 29-24 lead. Prigioni started the second quarter and followed Smith’s lead, sinking a 3-pointer to give the Knicks their first double-digit lead at 36-26.
Smith finished with 12 points in only his second game of the season after offseason knee surgery.
“I kind of went over my limit with him,” Woodson said. “He played 32 minutes and I didn’t want to go over 30. But it’s tough when you’re trying to win games and you’re turning to your trainer and asking how many minutes he’s on the floor.... It makes it a little tough.”
The Knicks committed only six turnovers. The Hawks had 15, including four by rookie point guard Dennis Schroder in less than 9 minutes.
New York outscored Atlanta 30-23 in the final period.
“Much better effort than we put forth in that San Antonio game,” Anthony said. “I’m glad to see that we responded in that fashion and put that game behind us.”
The Knicks, relying on 3-pointers, led 47-30 in the second period and 55-45 at halftime. New York made only 5 of 25 shots from the field while being outscored 23-10 in the third period, leaving the Hawks with a 68-65 lead.
“We took some quick shots,” Anthony said. “I took some quick shots. We just had to settle down and get our composure back, get our momentum back and go from there.”
Anthony and the Knicks regained control after the Hawks led 78-72 early in the fourth quarter. Anthony made a free throw, driving layup and a 3-pointer to launch an 11-0 run that gave New York the lead. Andrea Bargnani’s 3-pointer capped the run.
Anthony made 9 of 25 shots from the field.
“He’s a heck of a player,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.
“I feel like a lot of the night we made Carmelo work for his shots, but because he’s a great player he was able to make some of those tough shots. At that big moment, they needed him to step up and he did. It’s a credit to Carmelo.”
Bargnani had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. had 14 points for New York.
Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 25 points and eight assists. Al Horford had 23 points.
Horford said the Hawks must learn to finish out games.
“I feel good about our team,” Horford said. “We just need to learn how to hold the leads and finish out these games. We’ve let some of these slip away, so we need to be better in that regard.”
Teague said the Hawks are still coming together in Budenholzer’s first season.
“We made mistakes,” Teague said. “We’re still a new group and we’re still trying to figure one another out. We’re getting better every game. (The Knicks) have been together for a while.”
The Knicks made eight of their first 16 3-pointers. The Hawks missed their first nine 3s before Cartier Martin ended the drought late in the second period.
NOTES: Hawks G Lou Williams has been cleared for full participation in practice as he continues to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Jan. 18. ... Kyle Korver made two 3-pointers and has at least one 3 in 81 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Dana Barros (89). ... New York’s Metta World Peace had four points on his 34th birthday. ... Teague made 11 of 14 free throws. ... Martin had 13 points for Atlanta.