Cocky Knicks top Bulls, 90-86

May 09, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Five times in the past six years the New York Knicks have played the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, and five times the Knicks have been eliminated. So you try to make some sense of the fact that the Knicks were a little overconfident -- even cocky -- going into the Eastern Conference semifinal.

"They don't have that icon," said Knicks guard John Starks, referring to the retired Michael Jordan. "And when you dominate a team during the regular season, you can be overconfident."

Yesterday, the Knicks could consider themselves fortunate, as they fought back from a 15-point second-half deficit to steal a 90-86 win before a sellout crowd of 19,763 at Madison Square Garden. The victory gave the Knicks a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series that resumes here on Wednesday.

New York was lucky in that it won despite playing poorly most of the game, including a horrendous first half when the Knicks scored only 42 points. And fortunate in having crucial calls go their way in the fourth quarter, one in particular that had Chicago coach Phil Jackson livid.

Here's the scenario: With the Knicks leading 88-86 with less than 10 seconds left, a long jumper by New York guard Greg Anthony barely clipped the rim. As teammate Anthony Mason hauled in the rebound, one official blew a whistle and called a 24-second violation.

Once things were sorted out after a brief conference among the officials, the Knicks were awarded the ball. Chicago was forced to foul, and Starks hit two free throws with 5.3 seconds left to ice the game for the Knicks.

"That call at the end of the game was very questionable," said Jackson, arguing that his team stopped play once the whistle was blown, allowing Mason to grab the rebound. "That was a terrible finish to a game of that nature, with that much intensity and with that much riding on it, and with that kind of a score. That was disappointing."

But that's not why the Bulls lost the game. Chicago, coming off a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, ran its offense to near perfection in the first half. But by game's end, the Bulls had shot just 42.5 percent from the field, with their All-Star trio of Scottie Pippen, B. J. Armstrong and Horace Grant failing to come through when needed. Over the final five minutes, the trio scored just one field goal (a jumper by Pippen with 3:22 left), failing to distinguish themselves at a time when Jordan certainly would have.

"We should have won this game," said Grant, who scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds. "We played smart basketball for three quarters, but in the fourth quarter, we had a mental

lapse."

In the third quarter, the Bulls were able to build on their 52-42 halftime lead. Several times, they went up by as many as 15, the last time after Bill Cartwright hit two free throws for a 67-52 lead with 3:15 left in the third.

But the Bulls would hit just two of their last nine shots of the quarter, seeing their lead cut to 71-62 going into the final period. New York opened the fourth quarter with a 12-5 run, pulling to within 76-74 after a jumper by Charles Smith with 7:48 left that forced the Bulls to call time.

"The first three quarters we seemed a little fatigued, and we weren't moving the ball well," Mason said. "The latter part of the third quarter and the fourth, we began to play with a little more intensity."

It was Mason who gave the Knicks their first tie, 79-79, since the early going when he hit two free throws with 5:49 left. And it was Mason who gave New York its first lead of the half after scoring a layup with 48.3 seconds left -- after an errant heave by Pippen -- that put New York up 88-86. That was all the Knicks needed.

Pippen wound up with 24 points, but he missed six of his last seven shots from the field in the final quarter. "[Pippen] took a little bit on himself that he didn't have to take on himself," Jackson said. "I thought as a team we forced some shots and took some shots that were really tough."

As a result, the Bulls saw their five-game playoff road winning streak ended. Still, the Bulls didn't seem disheartened.

"There was no pressure on us," Pippen said. "They have the home-court advantage. The pressure's on them because they're expected to win."

Yet the Bulls have to realize that they can't have a repeat of last year's Eastern Conference finals, when the Knicks won the first two games here, only to be dismantled almost single-handedly by Jordan. The talk in New York is that this is the Knicks' time, but coach Pat Riley isn't buying any of it.

"We're not entitled to anything," Riley said, referring to the feckless proclamations made by the New York media. "[The Bulls] are wearing three rings. They don't grandfather anything to anybody. You have to work on [a title]."

The Knicks, in winning Game 1, realized that they can't achieve success by simply being overconfident.

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