Then he led the charge that got them back into the win column.
Lee made the go-ahead basket with 28 seconds left and scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, helping the Knicks erase a 20-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 95-91 on Friday night.
"I thought our effort in the second half was unbelievable. David Lee, I thought his second half was incredible," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He really had a super, super second half for sure."
Visibly frustrated after being beaten for a couple of baskets by Clippers center Chris Kaman in the first half, Lee simply outworked the Clippers' tandem of Kaman and Marcus Camby in the second. He twice leaped to tip Al Harrington's miss, keeping it alive the first time and knocking it in the hoop the second.
"I was very unhappy with the way I played in the first half," Lee said. "I just tried to come out and turn up my intensity and try to lead the team in the second half, and I thought our team played a lot better defense in the second half overall."
Chris Duhon added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who never led until the fourth quarter but found a way to win after blowing leads while losing their last two games. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler each finished with 14 points.
Jonathan Bender scored nine points in his first action since Nov. 5, 2005.
Kaman had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Baron Davis scored 19 points for the Clippers, who were looking for a third straight win but managed only 33 points in the second half.
"We didn't deserve to win this game," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We almost got lucky. (If) we'd gotten that rebound on that last miss, maybe we would have secured one. They played much better than us in the second half. That's really disappointing."
The Clippers had won four straight against the Knicks, a streak that figured to continue after they dominated the first half. But Lee turned around the game with 13 points in the third quarter and finished with 11 rebounds.
The Clippers never led in the fourth quarter until Davis' 3-pointer made it 91-90 with 36 seconds left. After Lee's tip-in, the Clippers turned it over on Al Thornton's offensive foul. Duhon's free throw made it a two-point game before Rasual Butler was short on a potential winning 3-point attempt with about 1 second remaining. Duhon's two free throws closed it out.
Los Angeles scored 16 straight points in the first quarter, turning a two-point lead into a 26-8 bulge on Davis' jumper with 3:42 remaining in the period. The Clippers led 31-16 after a first quarter in which the Knicks made only six of their 24 field-goal attempts.
Bender came in late in the quarter and quickly had a basket and 3-pointer. Injuries wrecked his previous three NBA seasons, and he announced in February 2006 that he could no longer play because of persistent knee pain. The No. 5 pick in the 1999 draft had been out of the NBA before signing with the Knicks on Sunday, given another chance by team president Donnie Walsh, who traded for Bender while in Indiana.
"It felt good," Bender said. "I was real excited. Had a lot of adrenaline going out, just wanted to get out there and do good, definitely make my first shot. And after I got that off my back, I felt pretty good from there."
The Clippers pushed the lead to 20 midway through the second and led 58-42 at halftime, but then shot only 4 of 18 in the third quarter.
"We were getting into our offense late and when a team like that is making a push and they're hungry, you can't play like we did in the third quarter and expect to win," Davis said.
Lee scored the final five points in a 14-4 spurt to open the second half that cut it to 62-56, then scored New York's final eight points of the period, including a layup with 4.7 seconds left that sent it to the fourth tied at 72.
Dunleavy said Blake Griffin, out all season with a stress fracture of his left patella, is scheduled for a CT-scan early next week and the team hopes afterward the No. 1 draft pick will be able to take the next step in his rehab. ... D'Antoni grew angry with a series of questions about Nate Robinson, insisting the benching of the popular guard was strictly a basketball matter and not a personality one. "We're trying to win," D'Antoni said. "I can't explain exactly every second the ins and outs, and we were on a roll and that roll doesn't quit just because you lose a game. You see over time if this works or not." ... The game was scheduled for an 8 p.m. start, a half-hour later than most Knicks home games, because it was originally to be televised on ESPN.
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