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 -- Only twice in NBA history has a team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win a championship. And both did it with dominant big men: Bill Russell with the Boston Celtics in 1969, and Bill Walton with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977.

That the New York Knicks are without a dominant big man makes the task difficult, but they at least gave themselves an opportunity with last night's 89-81 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

The Knicks never trailed, never let the Spurs' numerous comebacks rattle them and played their best all-around game of the series. It was San Antonio's first loss since Game 2 of the first round and ended the Spurs' NBA-record postseason winning streak at 12 games.

San Antonio shot 5-for-18 in the fourth quarter and committed six of its 20 turnovers, but the Spurs still have the upper hand in the best-of-seven series, leading 2-1. What the Knicks have is some momentum, with Games 4 and 5 to be played here at Madison Square Garden tomorrow and Friday nights, respectively.

Shooting guard Allan Houston, who scored 19 apiece in the first two games, carried the Knicks by tying a career playoff high with 34 points, hitting 10 of 24 shots on an array of mid- to long-range jumpers. Fellow guard Latrell Sprewell added 24 and forward Larry Johnson scored 16 for the Knicks, who never trailed.

"We wanted to get off to a great start. In San Antonio, we were always trailing," Houston said. "We just wanted to stay aggressive. We knew the shots would fall for us."

Said Sprewell: "We were confident because we felt we didn't play well offensively [the first two games]. We felt if we could do some good things on the offensive end, we had a chance of winning.

"Offensively, Allan was great. He pretty much carried us."

The Spurs' Tim Duncan finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds but did little after the Knicks started triple-teaming him and missed all four of his shots in the fourth quarter. David Robinson led the Spurs with 25 points.

After seeing an early 14-point lead dissipate, the Knicks built their advantage back to seven, 81-74, with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. After a Sprewell turnover, Sean Elliott hit a three-pointer from the corner to make it 81-77.

But Houston answered with another jumper from the top of the key, and, after Mario Elie clanked a long three-pointer, the Knicks' Marcus Camby hit a 10-foot turnaround jump with 2: 18 left for an 85-77 Knicks lead.

Elliott made a running one-hander, but after a miss by each team, Sprewell drove left and hit a baseline jumper to give the Knicks an 87-79 lead with 1: 04 remaining.

Duncan missed a three-pointer and the Spurs committed a key turnover in the final minute, dashing their hopes for a comeback.

"Scoring against San Antonio is difficult," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "You have to be efficient in scoring, and tonight we were. Our true character was tested tonight. You saw the true character. We played extremely hard.

"We got the free throw line tonight [23-for-30]. We were very aggressive in trying to get to the spots we wanted. Allan has shown an ability to make critical shots. He has made critical shots for us down the stretch in games. That's a rare quality in this league."

On the off days between Games 2 and 3, all the talk surrounding the Knicks was what changes the team would make to bounce back from a two-game offensive slump. The answer: Van Gundy put Camby in the starting lineup in place of Chris Dudley.

Dudley suffered a hyperextended right elbow in Game 1, which limited him to 13 minutes in Game 2. By placing Camby in the lineup, the Knicks were hoping to have more offensive firepower at the start of the game.

But Camby got in fast foul trouble, committing two personals in the first six minutes. Then, at the start of the second half, he picked up two more quick fouls and headed to the bench with no points in the game.

He would foul out in the game's final minute, after scoring just five points and getting four rebounds in 16 minutes.

For a team that had played mainly from the perimeter in the first two games in which they averaged just 72 points, the Knicks were looking to take the ball inside at the start of the game. And the players New York looked to down low were Houston and Sprewell, with both operating out of the post in the opening minutes while New York's big men stayed above the foul line to keep Duncan and Robinson out of the lane.

The move worked early, as Houston and Sprewell were able to get free for easy scores. When Johnson scored on a short jumper to give New York an 18-10 lead with 4: 43 left in the first quarter, it marked the Knicks' biggest lead of the series.

San Antonio was hurt early by foul trouble. Shooting guard Elie picked up his second foul less than two minutes into the game and had to go to the bench. His replacement, Jaren Jackson, picked up two fouls in less than a minute and had to sit, too.

That seemingly put the Spurs at a disadvantage, and the Knicks forged what would be their biggest lead of the half, 32-18, after a three-pointer by Chris Childs with 7.9 seconds left.

But the Spurs got a huge lift from Antonio Daniels, who had played just two minutes in the series before last night. Daniels hit two three-pointers in the first quarter, including one with just under a second left that cut the Knicks' lead to 32-21.

Pub Date: 6/22/99

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