Knicks rush past Bulls again, 96-91

May 12, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- For New York Knicks guard John Starks, it was a matter of watching and waiting.

Even though an ineffective first half had led to his being benched the entire third quarter, Starks knew he would get his chance.

And everyone knew it wouldn't take long for him to start cranking up the shots.

"It was just a matter of when they would call my number," Starks said. "And when I came in, it was just a matter of taking the first shot available."

So Starks fired away, scoring eight straight points during a decisive fourth-quarter run in the Knicks' 96-91 win over the Chicago Bulls last night at Madison Square Garden. It gave the Knicks a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, with Games 3 and 4 to be played in Chicago.

The Bulls will go home having squandered another opportunity to steal a game in New York and gain home-court edge. Instead, the three-time defending champions face a 2-0 deficit against the Knicks for the second straight season -- the result of another fourth-quarter collapse.

"We're getting into the fourth quarter and we're just not playing smart basketball," said Bulls forward Horace Grant. "We're still confident -- but it's going to be very difficult."

And all thanks to Starks, who sparked New York's fourth-quarter run with his scoring outburst. The 6-foot-5 guard hit back-to-back three-pointers, followed by a fast-break dunk that turned a three-point deficit going into the final quarter into an 80-72 lead after a free throw by Greg Anthony capped the 11-0 run. Starks, who was activated for the playoffs after he missed more than a month because of surgery on his left knee, scored all of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.

"He hit some big shots when we really needed it," Knicks guard Derek Harper said. "They were very crucial, and he did it at the right time."

The Knicks stepped up their defense at the right time, holding the Bulls scoreless for the first 5:20 of the fourth quarter. By the time B. J. Armstrong (23 points) ended the drought by hitting a jumper with 6:40 left, the damage already had been done. New York fans were chanting "sweep, sweep" as the Knicks won their first two at home.

"This is big for us," said forward Charles Smith. "It seems like lately our biggest stretches have come in the fourth quarter."

Which happen to coincide with Chicago's biggest collapses. The Bulls fell apart in Sunday's Game 1 after leading by as many as 15 points in the second half.

"We just haven't been able to handle the pressure down the stretch of games," said Scottie Pippen, who scored 22 points but only two in the fourth quarter. "They're definitely a much deeper team than we are. Any time we can play three quarters with a team, we should be able to get it done."

Said Armstrong: "Because of fatigue, personnel, foul trouble, you've got guys out there who aren't experienced at playing at that point in the game. We just have to play and we have to learn how to do things down the stretch."

On the other hand, New York has players who have been there before. Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 26 points (nine of 12 from the field), but scored just two when the Knicks began to gradually pull back into the game in the third quarter. It was then that reserve forward Anthony Mason began to assert himself on his way to a 15-point, 14-rebound, six-assist performance.

Mason and Starks combined to score 28 points off New York's bench -- just two fewer than the entire Chicago bench. It's that depth that has the Knicks in command.

But New York is not overconfident, having been in the same situation last year only to see the Bulls sweep the next four games.

"It's definitely on our mind," Anthony said of last year's collapse. "We know that we have to go in and take care of business.

"We're not going there content that we held court," he added. "We're going there to win."

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