NEW YORK -- Knicks coach Mike Woodson wants to know why his team waits until the second half to lock down on defense.
If his players would simply start off that strong, winning could be so much easier.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points, Amar'e Stoudemire had 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench, and New York extended its winning streak to three games with a 96-86 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.
After Monta Ellis gave the Bucks a 12-point lead, their largest of the night, on a turnaround jumper in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Knicks got stingy on defense. They chipped away at Milwaukee's lead and went ahead for good late in the period.
"I wish I could explain," Woodson said. "If we played like we did in the third and the fourth quarter, we would have won this thing going away."
After a strong showing to close the third quarter, the Knicks' defense kept it up, keeping the Bucks scoreless for almost 5 minutes to begin the final quarter before Brandon Jennings made a layup.
Milwaukee shot 20-for-42 in the first half and 6-of-13 on 3-pointers for a 53-47 lead, but withered in the second half. The Bucks hit just 13 of 41 shots and were limited to 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"You've got to give Milwaukee credit, too. They're 8-4 with their coach," Woodson said. "They've beat some good teams on the road, and they came in here and played a good first half. But I thought our third- and fourth-quarter defense kicked in and secured the win for us."
The Knicks will need similar defensive efforts if they plan to make a deep playoff run this season.
"I think overall over the past six or seven games we have been playing pretty good defense," said Anthony, who has scored 20 or more points in a career-best 31 straight games, extending the single-season franchise record.
"The first quarter, we still have to work on that and figure that out. But for the most part, for the whole course of the game, we've been holding the teams to a low percentage shooting-wise. We'll take that on any given night. Offensively we're going to miss shots, they're going to make shots, but if we can buckle down and do what we've been doing these last couple of weeks, we'll be fine."
"You've got to have that type of effort for 48 minutes," Stoudemire said.
Ersan Ilyasova led the Bucks with 19 points and seven rebounds. Ellis added 16 points, and Jennings scored 14.
Ellis and Jennings combined to make eight of 23 shots in the second half.
"We were just missing shots. They're not a great defensive team," Jennings said. "They do more switching but I think that made us hesitant a little bit. We were just missing point-blank shots."
The Knicks trailed for the majority of the game until late in the third quarter, when they stormed back.
With 4:02 remaining in the period, New York was down 70-63 after a turnaround jumper by Ellis. But the Knicks went on an 8-0 run as Anthony hit a 3-pointer and Raymond Felton connected on an alley-oop with Chandler, who finished with nine points.
Smith then hit a 3-pointer to make it 71-70 with 2:04 left.
Ilyasova drove to the basket and was fouled by Chandler before making a free throw that tied it at 71. Samuel Dalembert briefly gave the Bucks a 73-71 lead with a tip-in after Ilyasova stole the ball from Anthony.
But the Knicks answered right back. Anthony scored on a drive and was fouled, converting a three-point play that put New York ahead for good with 42.5 seconds left in the third.
"For us offensively, we just kind of hit a wall there. We couldn't score enough points," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "We were searching for offense pretty much the whole second half. We only had 20 points in the third quarter and we've been a pretty good third-quarter team coming out of the locker room. But tonight for whatever reason, we just didn't have enough."
The Knicks opened the fourth quarter with another run. Stoudemire made a pair of free throws and a hook shot in the lane to give the Knicks a 78-73 lead before Milwaukee called a timeout after Pablo Prigioni drew a charge on Mike Dunleavy with 9:35 left.
Milwaukee missed its first five shots and turned the ball over twice before Jennings' layup made it 78-75.
The Knicks then went on an 8-2 run and never looked back. Iman Shumpert scored on a layup, and Chandler followed with a dunk to make it 82-75. Marquis Daniels answered with a layup for Milwaukee but Shumpert made another basket and Felton followed with a 3-pointer to make it 87-77 before the Bucks called timeout with 4:58 to go.
"We've got to get after guys from the start to finish," Stoudemire said. "So we started off a little bit slow tonight but we were able to get it going in the second half."
The Knicks honored former New York City Mayor Ed Koch during a timeout in the first quarter. Koch died of congestive heart failure Friday at 88. ... New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia was in attendance. ... The Bucks had won 12 of 14 against the Knicks before losing four straight. ... The Bucks are 0-12 when held to 90 points or fewer this season. They scored 88 in a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night.