NEW YORK -- New heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe and former king George Foreman, who are considering a spring showdown, were courtside spectators at Madison Square Garden last night.
But the two heavyweights were duly impressed watching another giant, 7-foot, 240-pound Patrick Ewing, deliver a knockout blow to the Washington Bullets in leading the New York Knicks to a 98-88 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,763.
Ewing scored 28 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, doing most of his damage in the first three quarters when the Knicks held a precarious 63-60 lead.
But it was not until coach Pat Riley surrounded his All-Star center with reserves Hubert Davis, Greg Anthony, Charles Smith and Anthony Mason that New York was able to put Washington to rest.
This unit played a swarming defense, limiting the injury-riddled Bullets to 11 points in the first eight minutes of the final quarter. At the same time, they converted their defensive stops into quick transition baskets to build a commanding 94-74 lead and end the modest three-game winning streak of the Bullets (4-6).
"The whole thing came down to the fourth quarter," said Riley. "We keep statistics on how many shots we contest, and in the fourth quarter, we contested 70 percent of the Bullets shots. The Bullets are basically a jump shooting team, and now we were getting our hands up in their faces and that turned things around."
With two starters -- center Pervis Ellison (knee) and guard Rex Chapman (back) -- still sidelined, the youthful Bullets have relied heavily on the scoring of rookie Tom Gugliotta and veterans Harvey Grant and Michael Adams.
Grant, with 24 points, and Adams, with 19, again did their share last night, but Gugliotta was among the missing, suffering his most embarrassing night as a professional in being held scoreless for 21 foul-plagued minutes.
The New York native denied suffering stage fright playing before some 30 relatives and friends in his Garden debut, but in no way did he resemble the phenom who scorched Utah for 39 points and 15 rebounds in his previous outing.
"There is no polite way to put it," he said. "I was just plain lousy. I didn't feel any added pressure playing here. I just made some silly fouls and picked up three quick ones in the first half, and never really got in the flow after that. But the coaches and my teammates warned me that rookies have nights like this."
Said Bullets coach Wes Unseld, "He got some fouls that they usually call on rookies -- setting picks and reaching in. I don't know if he was pressing, but I was jerking 'Googs' in and out, trying to keep him around for the end.
"But in the fourth quarter, it seemed no one could put the ball in the hole for us. I'm sure the New York guys will say it was their great defense. Washington guys will say it was lousy shooting. Take your pick."
The Knicks, who lead the league in allowing the fewest points per game (94.2), prefer believing it was suffocating defense.
Mason, who, along with Anthony and John Starks had been benched against Orlando last week for what Riley described as "selfish play," scored 11 of his 13 points in the last quarter. But he, too, credited team defense for the turnaround.
"We were dragging for three quarters, matching the Bullets basket for basket," said Mason, a muscular forward. "But we have guys on this team who don't need to put the ball in the basket to provide a catalyst. We do that by playing pressure defense, diving all over the floor for loose balls. It gets contagious, and everybody starts playing harder on both ends of the floor."
Anthony also worked his way out of Riley's doghouse by contributing 13 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. He had been reprimanded by Riley for "trash talking" with former teammate Mark Jackson when the Knicks lost to the Los Angeles Clippers last week.
"Greg has to take the mental attitude that he is the lead guard when he's on the floor," said veteran shooting guard Rolando Blackman. "He has to calm down and play within himself. Just wait for his name to be called, and not be mad or upset."
Ewing remained the calm in the Knicks' storm.
New York's battle plan was simple: Get the ball down low to Ewing. And it worked to perfection.
Posted up against Charles Jones, three inches shorter, Ewing hit his first three baseline jumpers to give New York a 19-18 lead.
The first quarter ended with New York leading 27-25. Ewing had nine points and five rebounds.
"We still have a lot of room for improvement, especially on offense," Ewing said. "We still don't have our confidence there. Tonight, though, I was happy with my performance."
Having Bowe and Foreman in his corner didn't hurt a bit.
NOTES: Adams hit two of five three-point shots last night to tie the career record of 794 set by former Kentucky Colonels guard Louie Dampier. Adams, who played collegiately at Boston College, will have a chance to set the mark against the Celtics at Boston Garden tonight. . . . G LaBradford Smith will rejoin the Bullets after five games on the injured list with a sprained ankle. . . . The Knicks honored their former radio voice Jim Karvellas with a commemorative plaque for his 30 years of broadcasting NBA games, mainly for the Bullets.