NEW YORK, April 22 (Ticker) -- Kenyon Martin showed the New York Knicks how tough he can be down the stretch.

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Martin converted a key three-point play with 25 seconds left and the New Jersey Nets held on for an 81-78 victory over the Knicks and a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

New Jersey can complete the sweep on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Martin was the catalyst in this one with 19 points and 15 rebounds after directing a series of insults toward injured Knicks forward Tim Thomas at practice. That followed Thomas' charges that Martin was a "fake tough guy."

"I was going to let my game speak for itself," Martin said. "I said everything I was going to say this morning."

New York whittled a 14-point deficit down to 77-76 on a 3-pointer by Anfernee Hardaway with 42 seconds left. New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank called for a timeout, but his players did not hear him.

Hardaway knocked away Kidd's pass to Jefferson, but Jefferson recovered and got the ball back to Kidd, who returned the feed. Jefferson drove and stopped in the lane, finding Martin, who scored as he was fouled, then strutted.

"RJ lost the ball and I came up with it and threw it back to him," Kidd said. "He made a great play to K-Mart."

Martin's free throw opened an 80-76 edge.

Richard Jefferson and the Nets rose to the challenge of playing on the road.
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"My man went to help a little bit and he found me," Martin said. "I had to make a play, I had missed two free throws before."

Nazr Mohammed, who scored 18 points, responded with an inside basket while being but the free throw. Kidd made 1-of-2 at the line with 18 seconds remaining, giving the Knicks a chance to tie.

Hardaway missed a 3-pointer, but New York got the offensive rebound and worked it to Stephon Marbury, who was fouled before getting off a shot from the arc with three seconds to go. Marbury botched the first attempt and intentionally missed the second before Martin pulled down the game's final rebound.

"I don't know," said Marbury, who finished with 18 points and 10 assists. "I was shooting the ball. Once I heard the whistle, I was trying to shoot."

Kidd scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half to go with eight assists and seven rebounds while Jefferson netted 19 points and 10 assists. But Martin's 9-of-13 showing from the field and aggressive work on the boards stood out.

"I think K had his say and he didn't let anything deter him on the basketball court," Kidd said. "He was focused and ready to play."

"Mental toughness more than anything helped us out tonight," Martin added.

New York, which lost the first two games by a combined 42 points, put up a much better effort in its first home playoff game in three years. Still without Thomas and injured guard Allan Houston, the Knicks slowed New Jersey's transition game and created a more suitable half-court tempo.

"They gave the kind of effort I wanted," Knicks coach Lenny Wilkens said. "When we got down, we didn't quit. We just did not have enough offensive play."

The Nets have won 13 straight playoff games against Eastern Conference foes.