Pacers show they have a lot left

Southpaws Mullin, Rose combine the old and new to tie up Knicks series

June 09, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- One is a slow, aging veteran whose better days are behind him. The other might one day get his wish to be a starting point guard, but these days he is plying his trade as a backup.

If the Indiana Pacers advance to the NBA Finals, they can credit their two southpaw small forwards -- Chris Mullin and Jalen Rose -- for their play in the pivotal 90-78 Game 4 win on Monday that evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals at two games.

It was a case of the Knicks getting hammered by two different styles -- old school and new school. Rose used his quickness to score 19 points off the bench to lead all scorers, while the never been fleet-footed Mullin used his veteran savvy to add 18 points.

In a game where Indiana's two leading scorers, Reggie Miller and Rik Smits, combined for 16 points, the contributions from Rose and Mullin were huge as Indiana regained the home-court advantage.

"Both those guys were big," said New York guard Latrell Sprewell, who missed eight of 14 shots from the field as he started in the postseason for the first time. "Mullin got some easy shots in the first quarter and in the third quarter he just kept it going. And Jalen came in off the bench and provided the same spark."

Sprewell should know well, having been burned by both in the game. With Sprewell starting, the Knicks figured to have an advantage at small forward, with the conventional thinking being that Mullin couldn't keep up with the explosive New York swingman. Instead Mullin, cutting more as the Pacers went with added motion in their offense, broke loose from Sprewell for open looks at the basket and easy scores.

"Chris had a big burden on his shoulders because he knew Sprewell was going to start and everybody was talking about him not knowing how to defend him," said Pacers coach Larry Bird. "It's a tough matchup for Chris. On the other hand, we felt Chris could get loose and hit some shots and it was very important for our team that we got some scoring out of him."

Said Pacers starting point guard Mark Jackson, a college teammate of Mullin's at St. John's: "Chris was phenomenal. I told him it was like he turned back time. He was hitting shots, being aggressive -- he was unbelievable."

And when Mullin sat, it was Rose who picked up the scoring slack either with drives to the basket or quick pull-up jumpers. Each time in the fourth quarter that the Knicks threatened to get back into the game, it was Rose who answered with shots that destroyed New York's momentum.

It was a big effort for a guy who came off a two-point game in Saturday's loss and had been blasted by the New York tabloids for not showing up in the series.

"I knew what Larry [Bird] was saying about me having to go out and be aggressive," Rose said. "And I relish that opportunity. I was just trying to make plays to help us win."

And he made the plays at a key time for an Indiana team that avoided falling behind 3-1 in the series.

"He came in and had the game of his life," said Miller. "I told him in the fourth quarter that he hit some of the biggest shots I've ever seen him make since he's been an Indiana Pacer."

On the other hand, the two players the Knicks looked to for offense, Allan Houston and Sprewell, struggled. Houston had 14 points, but missed 11 of his 16 shots. Sprewell had been the dominant offensive player for New York during the first two rounds of the playoffs, but he scored just 12 points on Monday and is now shooting 38 percent in the series.

"We have to get Allan and Latrell going, and we have to get Latrell going defensively as well," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "I thought we got beaten by a team that played much better than we did."

And got beat by an Indiana team that has yet to get a big game from Miller, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half -- five of those coming on free throws. After shooting the ball nine times in Game 3, Miller had promised to launch "15, 20 or 25 shots" in Game 4. He took only 10, but as the series goes on he senses a breakout.

"I'm telling you, I'm starting to feel better," Miller said after Monday's game. "The longer this series goes it's almost like an overflowing dam. It's getting to the top and it's getting ready to burst.

"When it does it's going to flood," Miller added.

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