Knicks breeze, complete sweep

New York disposes of Hawks, 79-66


NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks' remarkable transformation from a team teetering on collapse a month ago to a group with a chance to turn its season into something special continued last night as they emphatically claimed Game 4 to sweep the Atlanta Hawks and take their second-round playoff series.

Relentless in their barrage of the thin Hawks, the Knicks eased away for a 79-66 victory and earned the right to play the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, with Game 1 on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Chants of "Jeff Van Gundy" filled Madison Square Garden in the last three minutes of the game, a show of support for a coach who has received no assurance that he will be back next season. And yet, this is the first time the Knicks have been in a conference finals since 1994 and the third time in the 90s.

The eighth-seeded Knicks, who did not clinch a playoff spot until the second-to-last game of the season, were led by Allan Houston (19 points), Patrick Ewing (17) and Latrell Sprewell (11), against the worn and frustrated Hawks, led by Steve Smith (14 points).

With five days off before the next round, Ewing's sore Achilles' tendon will have a chance to rest before he faces the Pacers, who eliminated the Knicks in the second round last year and needed just five games to do so.

The Knicks were the aggressors from the beginning and continued their assault the instant the second unit, led by Sprewell, Marcus Camby and Chris Childs, came into the game.

They were an intimidating group, turning steals into dunks and misses into fast-break opportunities that resulted in a 48-37 halftime lead.

That edge was not squandered when Houston and Ewing started the third quarter with a flurry of jumpers and helped put the Knicks ahead, 66-51, to start the fourth.

Everything that made up the Hawks' personality -- stingy defense, Dikembe Mutombo's menacing presence, deadly three-point shooting -- was vanishing beneath the determined Knicks, who quickly built a 56-40 lead with 7: 33 left in the third.

That lead increased to 65-47 with 2: 00 left in the third quarter, and the chants of "We want Reggie, we want Reggie" were ringing out in a crowd savoring the opportunity to see Reggie Miller in the playoffs.

After the Knicks grabbed a 25-18 first-quarter lead, the old then made way for the new. Sprewell tore off his warm-ups and stirred up a crowd somewhat bored by the Knicks' dominance of the Hawks. Sprewell changed all that when he stepped in front of a pass to Smith and darted to the basket with a two-handed dunk and two-fisted flex as he ran back down the floor with 6: 50 left in the second quarter.

The Hawks came back and cut the Knicks' lead to six points after a foolish play by Childs. As Mutombo went up for a dunk, Childs wrapped him up and pulled him to the floor. This might have been Childs' comeback to the elbow he took from Mutombo on April 9, a blow that knocked out a front tooth.

He vowed revenge at that time. He didn't need a hard foul to get it the way the Knicks were blasting away at the Hawks. Still, Childs was called for the foul and a technical that resulted in three points for the Hawks and pulled them to within six, at 38-32, with 4: 33 left in the half.

Typical of the Knicks these days, they had a counterpunch in them. Childs came back and hit a 19-foot jumper. Three possessions later, he swiped a steal and was off on a fast-break layup that broke the Hawks down and gave the Knicks a 44-32 lead with two minutes left in the first half.

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