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Francis drains game-winning 3-pointer as Knicks top Wizards

Mar 11, 2007 - 6:25 AM WASHINGTON (Ticker) -- Steve Francis went from goat to hero in a matter of seconds.

After missing a huge free throw just seconds earlier, Francis nailed an off-balance 3-pointer as time expired to lift the New York Knicks to a dramatic 90-89 victory over the Washington Wizards.

Francis had 26 points and seven rebounds for the Knicks, who nearly blew their second straight contest thanks to poor free-throw shooting. New York suffered a one-point loss to Seattle on Tuesday after Stephon Marbury missed a potential game-tying foul shot with less than a second left.

"Free throws are a very critical part of the game," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "When you look at - and analyze - how your losing games, ours is very identifiable. It's our free-throw shooting and it's a critical area we've been working on. We just have to continue to work hard on it and not let it get us down. Eventually, they'll fall."

Trailing, 88-85, with 22 seconds remaining, New York went to Marbury, who missed a shot from the arc. Rookie Renaldo Balkman grabbed the offensive rebound and found Francis, who drove the lane, absorbed contact and put in a tough layup to make it 88-87 with seven seconds left.

Francis, however, missed the ensuing free throw, continuing the Knicks' woes from the line.

"It was a great relief," Francis said. "I always go out and play hard. I was real upset that I missed the free throw but I still never quit playing."

Wizards forward Andray Blatche then made only one of two free throws, setting up Francis' heroics.

The veteran guard drove across mid-court, shook free from Washington guard Antonio Daniels with a behind-the-back dribble and drained a line-drive 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"We wanted to go deep to Eddy (Curry) but Renaldo found me open," Francis said. "So, I drove down the court, I looked at the clock and pulled up. I'm thrilled that the shot went in because we got the victory and I redeemed myself. It was really a great feeling."

Daniels gave credit to Francis.

"It's a real tough loss for us," Daniels said. "I was trying to keep him in front of me and play good defense. I didn't want to foul him. I was right there with him, he made the shot, that's all I can say."

A college star at nearby Maryland and a native of the state, Francis celebrated by jumping up on the scorer's table and then greeting his grandmother at courtside.

"I'm very grateful we got the win," Francis said. "It's very special to win in front of your family, especially my grandmother. She's never missed a game I've played down here. It's truly a great feeling and real special to me to get this win."

Francis shot 8-of-19 from the field, including 5-of-10 from the arc, for the Knicks, who moved into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. New York and Orlando have identical records (29-34) but the Knicks own the tiebreaker.

"Right now, this is a critical stretch for us," Francis said. "We have to keep playing hard. It's great that we moved into the eighth spot, but that's not our main focus. We want to play hard every night and give a complete effort and win games and that's our main focus right now."

Gilbert Arenas scored 25 points and Antawn Jamison added 18 for the Wizards, who shot just 40 percent (29-of-72).

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