ATLANTA — The New York Knicks finally won a game.
After struggling to pick up a victory for than a month, enduring loss after loss to earn the worst record in the NBA, the Knicks beat the Atlanta Hawks 106-91 on Thursday night at State Farm Arena to break their 18-game losing streak, the longest single-season skid in franchise history.
The Hawks threatened to take the lead at times, but the Knicks (11-47) did enough to stay on top before pulling away for good in the final minutes.
Dennis Smith Jr. scored 19 points and handed out seven assists, while John Jenkins and Kadeem Allen, who have spent most of the season in the G-League, each scored 14 points.
With the win, the Phoenix Suns now own the worst record in the NBA at 11-48.
Most of the Knicks will now get a week off for the All-Star break.
The break for Kevin Knox, who had nine points on 2-of-9 shooting, and Smith will be abbreviated with Knox participating in the Rising Stars Challenge and Smith showing off his skills in the Slam Dunk Contest.
The Knicks came to Atlanta reeling.
Coach David Fizdale didn’t understate the fact that picking up a victory would be significant going into the All-Star break.
“It’d be huge, obviously,” Fizdale said before the game. “This has been tough. Any time you go through some losing it’s tough, but you want to get them that win no matter what happens and it would be a good one obviously.”
But winning for the Knicks hasn’t come easily.
Their previous victory was Jan. 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers, which came while LeBron James was sidelined with a groin injury.
They pushed some good teams, like the Toronto Raptors, but lost to some bad ones, too, like the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In a season focused on development, wins were always going to be hard to come by.
Still, piling up loss after loss and experiencing that sort of run of futility isn’t good for any team.
They needed a victory.
Playing on the second half of a back-to-back after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, the Knicks got off to a fast start while the Hawks sleepwalked through the first quarter.
The Knicks built an early 15-point lead with Knox scoring seven points in the first quarter. The Hawks, meanwhile, were dreadful. They shot a paltry 6-of-29 from the field, including 0-of-9 from long distance, and finished the first period with a measly 13 points.
Things changed quickly.
The Hawks started making shots in the second quarter to climb their way back. Dewayne Dedmon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to slice the Knicks’ lead to nine points, prompting Fizdale to call timeout.
Atlanta tied the game at 47 on an Omari Spellman 3 before a pair of Kadeem Allen free throws put the Knicks back ahead.
Sharp-shooting Jenkins, signed to a 10-day contract, scored nine points in the period to help the Knicks stay ahead.
Still, their comfortable lead was gone and they went into halftime up by just three points.
They managed to stay on top through the third. Allonzo Trier drained a 3-pointer with 39 seconds remaining in the period to put the Knicks up by seven. After a Trae Young free throw, Mitchell Robinson had a dunk and Allen made one of two from the foul line to give the Knicks a nine-point lead at the end of the quarter.
With the Hawks threatening, Allen hit a key 3 with five minutes left in the fourth to put the Knicks back up by 12.
They were never in danger of losing the lead from that point on. The Knicks badly needed a win. They finally got one.
Chris Iseman writes for NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network.