It's Spurs' moment

A. Johnson's shot beats Knicks, 78-77, clinches NBA crown

June 26, 1999|By JERRY BEMBRY | JERRY BEMBRY,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- They were here a little more than 23 years ago, being eliminated in the first round of the ABA playoffs and wondering whether the franchise would participate in another professional basketball game.

Well, the San Antonio Spurs were one of four teams to make the cut in 1976, becoming a member of the NBA. And last night, they were crowned league champions with a 78-77 win over the New York Knicks before a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.

The Spurs won the best-of-seven NBA Finals, 4-1, completing a postseason in which they went 15-2, tied for the second-best playoff run in NBA history.

The victory was keyed by Finals MVP Tim Duncan's 31 points.

"It's an incredible honor," said Duncan. "It's an incredible feeling. I want to stay with it and get a high off it the whole summer, and get back to it next season."

The final game of the series turned out to be the best of the bunch, with a back-and-forth fourth quarter featuring Latrell Sprewell, who scored 35 points, and Duncan doing most of the work for their teams.

The winning points, however, came from former journeyman point guard Avery Johnson on a wide-open corner jumper with 47 seconds left.

Sprewell, closely guarded, missed a jumper with 26 seconds left, and the Spurs ran much of the remaining time off the clock before David Robinson missed a runner that didn't hit the rim. Johnson then fired the ball off the back of the rim from long range, avoiding a 24-second violation, and the Knicks had only 2.1 seconds to set up a final shot.

But the Knicks failed to score on the game's final play, an inbounds pass from Charlie Ward that found Sprewell too far under the basket. His awkward shot missed, and the Spurs stormed the court, their wives and girlfriends soon joining them, to celebrate.

"The play is called `Quick,' " said

Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "We got it where we wanted. I thought he was a little too far to go up. It was a great pass from Charlie. [Sprewell] couldn't go straight up with it.

"He's obviously the best player in the NBA," Van Gundy said of Duncan. "Not just because of his skill level. Because of his maturity, his knowledge of the game. That guy's truly into winning."

Robinson, after 10 years in the league, gained his highest honor, earning an NBA title. The Naval Academy graduate finally got his ring by playing a secondary role alongside the best player in the game, Duncan.

Said Mario Elie: "I'm so proud of this team. I'm happy for David Robinson. He's taken a lot of flak though his career. I told him let's do it again."

"[The Knicks] played great," said Robinson, "and they made us earn this. That team has some serious fire. They came at us."

Throughout the series, the twin towers of Duncan and Robinson proved to be too much for an injury-depleted Knicks team that may have fared better with Patrick Ewing in the lineup.

With his team scoring 89 points in its Game 4 loss on Wednesday, Van Gundy was not unhappy with the Knicks' offense. He was more concerned with his team playing defense and doing a better job of keeping the Spurs -- particularly Robinson -- off the offensive boards.

The Spurs, perhaps thinking too much about a title, looked flat in the early going last night, missing five of their first six shots. And the Knicks, who had to play from behind for most of Game 4, had an early 6-4 lead after a jumper by Allan Houston three minutes into the contest.

New York got a tough break less than 30 seconds later when Marcus Camby, coming off a 20-point, 13-rebound game, picked up his second foul with 8: 31 left and had to go to the bench. And with Camby out, the Knicks struggled offensively, missing their next four shots as the players seemed content to shoot from the perimeter.

The Knicks' had their biggest lead of the quarter, 21-15, after Latrell Sprewell tipped in a Houston miss with 1: 25 left. Sprewell only hit two of seven shots in the quarter, but his seven points helped New York -- which held the Spurs to 36.8 percent shooting -- to a 23-20 lead.

Near the midway point of the second quarter, New York's lead was 32-24 after a jumper by Houston. But the Spurs got back into the game behind the play of their twin towers, Duncan and Robinson.

San Antonio, after falling behind by eight, finished the half with a 16-6 run. Robinson had five points during the run and Duncan six. Robinson would finish the half with 10 points and nine rebounds, and Duncan had 16 points and six rebounds.

But it was a wide-open three-pointer by Jaren Jackson with six seconds left -- both of his first-half field goals were three-pointers -- that gave the Spurs a 40-38 halftime lead.

The Knicks came out flat in the third quarter, missing their first four field goals and committing three turnovers over the first three minutes.

San Antonio had its biggest lead, 47-38, to that point after two free throws by Mario Elie with 9: 06 left.

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