Knicks strike back, 89-81

Houston's 34 help New York take Game 3, trim Spurs' lead to 2-1

`Our character was tested'

Defeat ends Spurs' 12-game playoff streak

June 22, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- It was Allan Houston's game-winning shot in the first round that made the New York Knicks' dramatic playoff run possible. And it was Houston's offensive aggression last night that gave the Knicks new life in the NBA Finals.

New York's most consistent scorer during the Finals, Houston scored 34 points last night to help the Knicks defeat the San Antonio Spurs, 89-81, in Game 3 of the NBA Finals before 19,763 at Madison Square Garden.

And while the Knicks still trail the best-of-seven series 2-1, the victory gives life to a team whose offense was nonexistent during two losses in San Antonio.

Houston had the hot hand the entire night, but he had lots of help as the Knicks ended San Antonio's playoff record 12-game winning streak. San Antonio also lost its first playoff road game this year after going 6-0.

Latrell Sprewell added 24 points for the Knicks, and Larry Johnson made his first real contribution of the series with 16 points.

The big difference in Game 3 was that the Knicks finally got to the free-throw line. Their 30 attempts were one fewer than the team had shot combined in the first two games.

"It was a game of free throws," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. "We couldn't get Tim [Duncan] to the line. He got a lot of touches down there, but only four free throws."

The player making the most use of his free throws was Houston, who connected on all 12 of his attempts. Ten of those came in the first half, when the Knicks led by as many as 14 points.

"We tried to catch the ball closer to the basket," Houston said of the Knicks' strategy. "I was surprised in Game 2 that we weren't able to make shots and do the things we did [last night]. We did a much better job of playing together, kicking the ball to the open man."

Said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy: "Allan really had it rolling tonight. He has shown an ability to make critical shots. He has made several critical shots down the stretch, and that is a rare quality in this league."

The Knicks threw a different look at the Spurs at the start of the game, removing Chris Dudley from the starting lineup and replacing him with Marcus Camby. The thought was to get a better offensive team on the floor at the start of the game, but Camby was a nonfactor early as he picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Camby played just eight minutes in the first half.

However, the Spurs faced foul trouble themselves, as Houston's aggression led to two fouls in the first two minutes on Mario Elie and two fouls in less than a minute on Jaren Jackson. New York had that 14-point lead in the first quarter, and its 32 points were the most by either team in a quarter during the Finals.

"We just came out with a lot of energy," Sprewell said. "If you can't come out with a big effort and poise, then you don't need to be out here."

Said Spurs center David Robinson: "It was just a slow start for us. And we were fighting uphill all night."

In fact, the Spurs fought uphill so much that they never led in the game, seemingly always making runs at the Knicks but never getting over the hump. The Spurs got as close as 49-46 at halftime, and tied the game at 58 with 3: 35 left in the third quarter after a short hook by Duncan.

But the Knicks had an answer for every Spurs run. After Duncan's basket, Houston responded with a three-pointer from near the top of the key, his first three-pointer of the series. The Knicks, despite hitting just four of 23 shots (17.4 percent) in the third quarter, had a 65-62 lead going into the fourth.

But in the fourth Duncan, who dominated the post in Games 1 and 2, went scoreless, missing all four of his shot attempts -- most of those coming against the smaller Johnson.

"They were a little more aggressive," said Duncan, who faced spirited double-teaming. "They didn't let me get to the middle as much as I have before. But I missed some shots that I usually hit."

And the Knicks were hitting some shots in the fourth quarter that they had been missing in San Antonio, where the team averaged just 72 points. After the Spurs got within 81-77 on a three-pointer by Sean Elliott with just over three minutes left, Houston responded by hitting a jumper with 2: 59 left for an 83-77 lead.

After an Elie miss, Camby hit a turnaround jumper and the Knicks were on their way to their first win of the series.

"Our true character was tested," Van Gundy said. "This is the first time in the playoffs that we had been down one, and it's the first time we've lost two in a row. I think you saw the true character of the Knicks. We played extremely hard. We hung in there when they were making runs. We were very resilient."

And in doing so the Knicks forced the San Antonio fans who celebrated so hard after Friday's Game 2 victory to put away their brooms. Many fans there assumed the Spurs would sweep the series, but another New York win here would move the Finals back to San Antonio.

"Our team just absolutely hates to lose -- we take it personally when we lose," Robinson said. "We always respond well after a loss -- always. So this is something all of us have to go back and get ourselves reset and just come back and be more focused."

NBA Finals

San Antonio vs. New York (San Ant. leads series 2-1)

Game 1: S.A. 89, N.Y. 77

Game 2: S.A. 80, N.Y. 67

Last night: N.Y. 89, S.A. 81

Tomorrow: at New York, 9

Friday: at New York, 9

Sunday: at San Ant., 7: 30*

June 29: at San Antonio, 9*

* -- If necessary TV: Chs. 11, 4

Pub Date: 6/22/99

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