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 Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the New York Knicks appeared to have the advantage on the perimeter. But the big question was whether the Knicks could contain San Antonio's front line, particularly Tim Duncan.

That's a question New York must try to find an answer to by tomorrow night's Game 2, as Duncan dominated play in the post with 33 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in an 89-77 San Antonio win before a crowd of more than 40,000 at the Alamodome.

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 the key to the Spurs taking control of the game and assuming a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series that resumes here tomorrow.

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

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

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

That rust wasn't evident as San Antonio ended New York's streak of consecutive opening-game playoff wins on the road. The Knicks had won opening games in Miami, Atlanta and Indiana prior to last night's loss.

Another major question entering the game was whether Larry Johnson would be able to play for the Knicks. Johnson injured his right knee in the deciding, sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers and, judging by the comments from Johnson and the Knicks prior to the game, it appeared his chances of being ready for Game 1 were slim.

Not only did Johnson play, but he started, and he looked pretty good in his movement on the court. But Johnson would be a non-factor, not because of his leg, but because of his size.

Two minutes into the game, Johnson had two fouls, as Spurs center David Robinson went right at him. He would pick up three fouls in six minutes of the first half, when he scored three points.

Despite Johnson's early problems, the Knicks started the game well behind the shooting of Allan Houston, who scored 10 points in the opening quarter, hitting five of six shots.

After falling behind by as many as five points in the opening minutes of the game, the Knicks tied it at 15 on a jumper by Houston with 3: 46 left. New York ended the half with a 16-6 run, taking a 27-21 first-quarter lead after a jumper by Houston with 3.8 seconds left.

But the second quarter would be a different story as the Knicks missed six shots and committed two turnovers on their first eight possessions.

The team's first field goal of the quarter came after more than five minutes when Johnson scored on a lay-up with 6: 58 left. But within a minute both he and reserve forward Marcus Camby would pick up their third fouls and go to the bench.

The Spurs took little time taking advantage, especially Duncan, who would finish the half with 19 points. Whether it was taking his time in the low post for easy scores, driving to the basket or hitting jumpers, Duncan proved why many consider him the best player in the league.

As poorly as the team started the second quarter, the Knicks still had a 35-31 lead with 4: 17 left after a jumper by Houston. But that would be the final field goal of the period for New York, which hit three of 18 shots in the quarter.

During that Knicks scoring drought, the Spurs were ending the half with a 14-2 run -- nine of those points coming from Duncan. After a Duncan free throw with 8.7 seconds left, the Spurs had a 45-37 halftime lead, holding the Knicks to 36.6 percent shooting in the first half.

When the third quarter started, it was clear the Spurs wanted contributions from players other than Duncan and Robinson (11 points in the first half). So the period began with Mario Elie scoring on a layup, Avery Johnson missing a jumper on his first shot attempt of the game and Sean Elliott scoring on a layup with 10: 14 left, his first field goal of the game.

With that offense, the Knicks were able to get within 51-46 after Camby, ineffective in the first half because of foul trouble, scored on a layup with 7: 33 left. And it was right about that time the Spurs started to again make Duncan the focal point of the offense.

Going against the smaller Johnson, Duncan, over a span of two minutes, hit three straight baskets. That was part of a stretch in which the Spurs connected on seven straight shots, the last a three-pointer by Elliott with 2: 31 left that gave San Antonio a 67-56 lead.

The Knicks appeared to shake off their second-quarter offensive woes in the third, when the team scored 26 points. When the period ended with New York trailing, 71-63, the biggest concern for the Knicks going into the final quarter was how to stop Duncan.

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

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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