Camby gives N.Y. boost it needed

Reserve forward scores 21, helps Knicks build 2-1 lead

June 07, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- His arrival in this hard-to-please town wasn't exactly met with a ringing endorsement from his coach. In fact, New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy questioned his work habits and his toughness, and his heavy minutes on the bench early in the season earned him the nickname "Marcus Can't Be."

Well, Marcus Camby "Can Be" an important piece to the improbable championship run of the Knicks. While Larry Johnson grabbed all the headlines with his rare, game-winning four-point play in New York's 92-91 win over Indiana on Saturday night, Camby's solid effort leading up to that shot helped keep the Knicks in the game.

The 6-foot-11 forward came off the bench to score a playoff career-high 21 points, and had enough nerve to hit two high-pressure free throws with 13.8 seconds left that at the time pulled the Knicks within 89-88. And for a player once labeled as soft, Camby grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, including an offensive board with his team trailing by five with 1: 44 left that eventually led to Latrell Sprewell's layup.

"One rebound will win the game and three [Indiana] guys are standing there, and Marcus came from 15 feet back and tips it out and they score off the play," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "Marcus was the best player out there. He scored points and got a lot of rebounds and kept the ball alive. He had a phenomenal game."

While Bird praised Camby, he was highly critical of his team, which -- one year after extending the Chicago Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals -- now must come back from a 2-1 series deficit to defeat the eighth-seeded Knicks.

Reggie Miller, who has had some great moments against New York, scored 12 points and took nine shots. Key reserve Jalen Rose had two points in 22 minutes. And starting power forward Dale Davis had two points and one rebound in 22 minutes, difficult to imagine against a New York team that is not dominant along the front line.

Miller promises to shoot more in Game 4. On the Knicks' side, Sprewell, coming off the bench all season, will move into the starting five in place of Kurt Thomas as the Knicks employ a smaller lineup.

"We have three or four guys who play well, and we have three or four other guys that don't play well," Bird said. "I was very disappointed with Dale Davis. We had a number of players that didn't come to play."

But for the Knicks, Camby came to play, and it could not have come at a better time for team playing without Patrick Ewing (torn Achilles' tendon) for the first time in the 1999 postseason.

In Ewing, the Knicks had a low-post threat who commanded enough respect to get Rik Smits to foul out in Games 1 and 2. Without Ewing, the Knicks are more of a fast-breaking, slashing team, which better suits the style of the swift, lean Camby.

Camby hit nine of 13 shots, the baskets mainly coming on dunks, layups or tip-ins. While he has yet to develop enough strength to be a post-up threat on offense, Camby's agility and speed allow him to slither past defenders for offensive rebounds and easy scores.

After the Knicks struggled early Saturday with Chris Dudley in the starting lineup, Camby came into the game to energize the team. He played well enough that he got to start the second half.

"I was excited to get the nod, but I'm just happy about playing," Camby said. "All I wanted all year long was to get in the game and prove myself."

Camby did just that, and the loud cheers he heard from the Madison Square Garden crowd -- the same crowd that earlier this season booed the man who replaced the beloved Charles Oakley -- demonstrated a sign of acceptance.

"When [the Knicks guards] penetrated, Marcus did a good job of finding open seams and he got the ball in the basket," Van Gundy said. "He was our unexpected source of offense. He was huge. He did a great, great job."

Said Pacers guard Reggie Miller: "Marcus played the game of his life."

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