NEW YORK - Eddy Curry didn't feel it coming until it was too late. Situations like that illustrate the differences in experience between the Knicks and Nets.
Curry didn't notice that Clifford Robinson was attempting to move his 285-pound frame away from the action. By the time the 24-year-old Curry was aware of it, Robinson had tipped in a Vince Carter miss with 2.8 seconds remaining to give the Nets a dramatic 101-100 victory over the Knicks Friday night Madison Square Garden.
Opposing coaches have gone out of their way to describe Curry as a force or a monster in recent weeks. At times Curry has been a very immovable object but Robinson, who has years of experience and the title of the second-oldest player in the NBA, was able to move into the right spot.
"Carter drove, he kind of actually gravitated towards the ball and Cliff made a great play on the ball and they won the game," Curry said. "He knew that we had to go challenge the shot and he knew if he stepped in that he was going to have an opportunity to tip the ball if it missed. It was just a great play by him."
"I was actually waiting for Vince to pass it to me in the corner," Robinson said. "But he got a good look and he wasn't able to finish it. Those guys turned and all collapsed to the basket and I was able to sneak in there and get a hand on the ball."
The Knicks appeared headed for another dramatic win. David Lee tipped in a Jamal Crawford miss with 9.7 seconds remaining for a 100-99 lead, capping an 11-0 run.
Following a timeout, the ball went to Carter. Carter was guarded tightly by Jared Jefferies and missed badly. The Knicks failed to grab the rebound and the ball came to Robinson, who pushed Curry out of the way.
Out of timeouts, the Knicks were forced to run the length of the court in 2.8 seconds. They failed to get off a good shot as Stephon Marbury missed a desperation 3-pointer from 53 feet at the buzzer.
Coach Isiah Thomas called Robinson's move to get in the correct position "veteran know-how. Robinson, who turned 40 last month and is in his 18th season, was playing in his 1,345th career game.
"The longer we hang around and stay in these types of games, the more we grow up in our back line," Thomas said. "We won't continue to get beat by in the NBA what they call veteran know how. That's what we got beat with tonight, the veteran know how. You've got to give Cliff Robinson credit for that."
Robinson's game-winner put the Nets into first place in the Atlantic Division. The Nets (19-20) moved ahead of Toronto and now leads the Knicks by three games.
Robinson's shot also was similar to final seconds of Wednesday's loss in Washington. In their 99-98 loss to the Wizards, the Knicks smothered Gilbert Arenas but didn't focus on Caron Butler, who won it on a dunk.
"We were right there at the end," Quentin Richardson said. "We needed one more last play. We need to focus on it. We normally always rebound. We just have to be a little more focused."
Although Robinson has been with the Nets for a little less than two years, the core group of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson have been together for five years, which is why coach Lawrence Frank knew his team wouldn't panic after losing a 10-point lead in the final 2:21.
"You don't flinch," Frank said. "There's nine and change, nine seconds and change left and you feel like we have a great opportunity to win."
The Knicks also didn't flinch in the face of adversity. They did not play great for most of the night but scored 11 points in 2:11 and capitalized on poor execution by the Nets.
The Nets were leading 99-89 when Jason Kidd made a pair of foul shots. Marbury made a three-pointer to cut the deficit to seven and Jason Collins missed a pair at the line. Lee then tipped in a Marbury miss with 86 seconds remaining and Carter missed two free throws.
It was a three-point game when Marbury drove in for a layup with 1:12 remaining and then it became a one-point lead when he hit a pair of foul shots with 40.9 seconds remaining.
The Knicks then called their final timeout with 20.9 seconds remaining. It was a move that may have cost them because on their final possession they could have inbounded the ball from halfcourt and possibly gotten a closer look.
The frenzied comeback and finish sent the Knicks into the midpoint of the season at 17-24. Although it's only three games ahead of last season, last year's edition would not have necessarily been in this position at the end of games.
Despite the rally and slim final margin, the Knicks still did a number of things wrong. They shot only 73.2 percent (30-of-41) from the line and also committed 17 turnovers.
Carter had a rough night, as he finished with 16 points. He missed 16 of 23 shots, including all six of his three-pointers.
In spite of Carter's rough night, the Nets seemed like they were going to coast to their eighth win in 10 games. They took a 75-66 lead through three and built it up to 13 midway through the fourth.
That was why they were able weather a late collapse.
"There are ebbs and flows in every game," Frank said. "You have to give New York credit. We were able to develop a cushion and give ourselves a little leeway."
Richardson led the Knicks with 24 points. Marbury scored 12 of his 23 in the fourth as New York lost for the just the second time in its last eight home games.