Majerle pushes Heat 1 from East finals

Two-late 3-pointers too much for Knicks to overcome in 87-81 loss

Pro Basketball


MIAMI - They'll be back.

There will be at least one more AmericanAirlines Arena encore for Jamal Mashburn, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Dan Majerle, Bruce Bowen, Anthony Carter and the rest of the Heat players who made last night a night to savor.

The only question is whether perennial nemesis New York will be along for the ride in that return engagement.

With an 87-81 victory fueled by across-the-board contributions, the Heat moved to a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.

Up next is tomorrow night's Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.

"We're going to make our best effort to close it out," coach Pat Riley said.

After that, it's either the fourth winner-take-all game in as many years in this contentious series, a Game 7 that would be Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena, or the first visit of the Eastern Conference finals to South Florida since 1997.

With two late Majerle three-pointers, the second a 28-foot rainbow that made it 80-73 with 1:41 to play, the Heat forced the Knicks into having to win consecutive playoff games in this matchup for the first time in three years. Otherwise, New York will bow out in the second round a year after advancing to the NBA Finals.

"He has the ability to do that," coach Pat Riley said of Majerle's three-pointers.

Even after Majerle's three-pointers, the Knicks closed within 80-77 on two free throws by guard Allan Houston. But a three-pointer from the left corner with 35.2 seconds to play by Bowen, a defensive-minded guard New York attempted to add at midseason, put the Heat up 83-77.

"I thought we saved our very best for the last part of the game," Riley said.

The Heat had many heroes.

Hardaway and Carter played tag-team point guard to perfection. Carter was solid in the second and fourth quarters, while Hardaway overcame a painful left foot to score 10 in the third. The two combined for 18 points and nine assists to two turnovers.

Then there were the bench efforts of forward Clarence Weatherspoon, who kept the Heat afloat in the first half with six points and six rebounds, and Bowen, whose only conversion was his three-pointer.

Beyond that, Mashburn helped offset a breakout night for Latrell Sprewell, with 21 points to 24 for the New York forward. Without a free-throw attempt the previous two games, Mashburn even got to the line eight times.

And from the power rotation, Mourning, on a foul-plagued night, closed with 18 points and four blocks, while power forward P.J. Brown extended the Heat's dominance on the boards with 11 rebounds.

The Heat, as usual, had to fight to the bitter end, after guard Chris Childs made a three-pointer that drew New York within 84-81 with 14.6 seconds to play.

But two free throws by Mashburn made it academic.

The Heat entered the fourth quarter up 64-60, having not been outscored in the fourth quarter this postseason. It had outscored the opposition in the fourth quarter six times in these playoffs and tied in the other fourth quarter. That streak remained intact.

The Heat got a jolt at the start of the final period, when Mourning was called for a charge on its first possession. That gave Mourning four fouls, although Riley opted to leave him on the court.

Mourning, still lacking in self-control, then committed the ultimate blunder, a reach-in foul after he had missed a shot with 7:36 to play, a miss that dropped him to five of 16 from the field. That sent him to the bench with his fifth foul and opened the lane for the Knicks, who had been stymied by Mourning's four blocks to that point.

Earlier in the day, Mourning had said, "I've got to be Superman out there. The slightest mistake I make is gonna be blown out of proportion."

This was not a mere mistake, but a monumental bungle. The Knicks scored back-to-back baskets as soon as Mourning left to tie it 66-66.

"From that tie score, we just took off," Riley said.

Mourning returned with 5:16 to play, in the middle of a three-point play by Majerle that put the Heat up 73-68. He fouled out with 56.2 seconds to play and the Heat up 80-75.

Mourning, who shot 7-for-13 from the line in his previous home appearance, this time went 8-for-11 from the line.

The Heat got off to a shaky start with Hardaway running its offense, trailing 19-10 when he was pulled with four minutes to play in the first quarter. Hadaway scored 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter.

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