Spurs' Duncan takes over

Knicks take 89-77 beating

33-point night drives San Antonio in Game 1

June 17, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO -- Going into last night's NBA Finals opener, the New York Knicks appeared to have the advantage on the perimeter. But the big question was how New York would contain the San Antonio Spurs' front line, particularly Tim Duncan.

That's a question the Knicks must try to find an answer to before tomorrow night's Game 2 as Duncan dominated play in the post last night with 33 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in an 89-77 win by the Spurs before 39,514 at the Alamodome, the second-biggest crowd in NBA Finals history.

Duncan did it all, from scoring in the low post to hitting jumpers to passing out to teammates for easy baskets. Singlehandedly, he got much of New York's front line in foul trouble, which was key to the Spurs taking control of the game and assuming a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

"It's been a long time coming. The 10 days felt like an eternity," Duncan said of the team's layoff between the Western Conference finals and last night's game.

"It wasn't easy. Those guys were playing hard. They're a very physical team. I worked hard tonight, I really did."

The win was the 11th straight for the Spurs, who improved their record to 12-1 in this postseason. Should San Antonio continue on and sweep the series, it will finish with the best winning percentage in NBA playoff history.

In playing their first game since completing a four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals on June 6, the Spurs' biggest concern going in was rust.

"When you're all fired up and being off for a while, we might struggle a little bit when the game begins," Spurs guard Mario Elie said beforehand. "But by halftime, we'll be back in the flow."

The Spurs really had their flow going defensively in the second quarter, when they held the Knicks to 3-for-18 shooting (16.7 percent) and 10 points, the lowest-scoring second quarter in NBA Finals history.

As poorly as the Knicks played in that quarter, they still had a 35-31 lead with 4: 17 left in the half after a jumper by Allan Houston. But that would be the team's final field goal of the quarter.

New York's offense was in such disarray over the final minutes of the second period that Chris Dudley -- he of very limited offense -- took three of the Knicks' final five shots of the half. The Knicks went from a six-point first-quarter lead to a 45-37 halftime deficit.

Duncan was unstoppable in the first half, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. And the Spurs led at the half despite the fact Sean Elliott didn't score and point guard Avery Johnson didn't hit a field goal. The two combined for one shot attempt in the first half.

The Knicks appeared to get a lift at the start of the game when Larry Johnson, who was injured in the deciding sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals, walked out with the starting lineup. But his impact was minimal, as he picked up two fouls two minutes into the game.

Johnson, 6 feet 7, was matched up defensively against 7-1 David Robinson. As soon as the Spurs recognized the mismatch, they milked it for the two quick fouls. Johnson played just six minutes in the first half, picking up three fouls.

The Knicks were competitive early behind the shooting of Houston and Latrell Sprewell, who combined to hit 10 of 19 shots. Houston had 14 points in the first half and Sprewell added eight.

But the second half was a different story. Houston hit just one of six shots in the second half, and Sprewell connected on just five of 15 and finished the game with 19 points and a team-high six turnovers.

Much of the success of Sprewell and Houston is based on penetration to the lane, but the combination of Duncan and Robinson (13 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) did a good job of altering shots.

The big difference in the second half was the play of Duncan and reserve guard Jaren Jackson, a onetime reserve with the Washington Bullets. With Johnson defending him, Duncan scored over the smaller forward on three straight possessions in the third quarter.

"He's a little shorter than I am, and I felt I could get some shots over him," Duncan said. "They went down for me."

As for Jackson, he recovered from a dismal first half (1-for-7 from the field) to hit four of his five three-point attempts in the second half.

"Obviously, Duncan's going to score," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We've got to take away Jaren Jackson hitting those threes."

Not only will the Knicks have to defend better against Duncan, they'll have to do it without getting into foul trouble. By the end of the first half, Camby, Johnson and Houston all had three fouls.

"Right now, this is a big obstacle for us because we haven't been down in a series in these playoffs," said Sprewell, whose team had won three straight road series openers prior to last night. "Right now, we're one game behind. We obviously don't want to make it two."

NBA Finals

San Antonio vs. New York (San Ant. leads series 1-0)

Yesterday: S.A. 89, N.Y. 77

Tomorrow: at San Antonio, 9

Monday: at New York, 9

Wednesday: at New York, 9

June 25: at New York, 9*

June 27: at San Ant., 7: 30*

June 29: at San Antonio, 9*

*-If necessary

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Streaking along

The San Antonio Spurs won their 11th consecutive playoff game last night, tying the record for longest streak in one postseason:

One postseason

Wins Team Year

11 San Antonio Spurs 1999

11 Los Angeles Lakers 1989

9 Chicago Bulls 1996

9 Los Angeles Lakers 1982

Consecutive postseasons

Wins Team Years

13 L.A. Lakers 1988-'89

12 Detroit Pistons 1989-'90

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