Knicks' prognosis improves

Banged-up N.Y. evens series with Indy, 91-89


NEW YORK - A little more than six minutes into the New York Knicks' best half of the season, Latrell Sprewell threw a crossover dribble at Jalen Rose, drove past the defensive statue that is Rik Smits, and flushed a tomahawk dunk.

Broken foot? Yeah, right.

Less than five minutes later and less than a half- minute after entering the game, Marcus Camby closed in on Rose, launched himself high into the air, and swatted away Rose's shot, drawing a foul only because he got Rose with his body.

Sprained knee capsule? Uh-huh.

With the Indiana Pacers within one after trailing by 17 at halftime, Larry Johnson drained his fourth and fifth three-pointers of the night within a two-minute span that helped push the lead back to nine.

Bad back, plus aches and pains all over? Sure.

Battered and bruised? These Knicks? If this is unhealthy, then someone take a tire iron to them. Sneeze in their faces. Feed them some bad shellfish.

Maybe they're unhealthy medically, but they are healthy again in the Eastern Conference finals, now a best-of-three miniseries after their 91-89 Game 4 victory yesterday drew them even with the Pacers at two games apiece.

Only Patrick Ewing, who sat out a second straight game with his right ankle tendinitis, missed getting in on the fun. Even without him playing, there was a 57-40 first half in which the Knicks made two of every three shots they took, five of six overall from three-point range, and battered Indiana on the glass, 19-13.

He watched Johnson scoring 25 and draining 10 of 16 shots overall, including all five of his three-point attempts.

He watched Charlie Ward's 16 points, seven assists, six boards, and 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.

He watched Kurt Thomas' postseason-high 16 points and five boards in Ewing's stead.

He watched Sprewell storming out of the box for nine first-half points on his broken left foot, finishing with only 12 points while Johnson, Ward, and Allan Houston (17 points) carried the offense.

He watched Camby's three- block, nine-rebound aerial show.

Ewing wasn't missed. No, not at all. Johnson saw to that most of all.

He was there in the low post, working Dale Davis, flipping in a left-handed reverse layup to open the game, knocking down a face-up jumper after that, then eventually finding his niche behind the three- point line, from the top of the key, from the right corner, and from everywhere in between.

That is the Pacers' nightmare: Johnson knocking down three after three, as he does on the scoreboard video the Knicks now run at the Garden in which clip after clip, from every different angle, he knocks down the three that became the Game 3-winning four- point play during last season's conference finals.

"That's probably the most open I've been in the series," he said. "I was just getting some good looks."

As was everyone in the first half, including Sprewell, who followed his slam by banking in a floater along the lane, then knocking down two more jumpers by driving, stopping, and popping left of the lane.

For a guy who said, "I couldn't explode the way I normally like to," he sure came out like dynamite.

Perhaps that's because the Pacers, until their comeback, looked comatose. One loose rebound that caromed out near midcourt in the first half said it all. Rose stared right at it, watched it bounce, but never made a move as Johnson stepped in front of him to grab it.

"A lot of times we bury a hole for ourselves," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "Sometimes we get out, sometimes we don't."

This time they almost did, as Reggie Miller's three with 6:50 to go made it a 77-76 game, Knicks.

But those would be Miller's last points until the Knicks made it an eight-point game again with 2:22 left, with a Ward three punctuating an 11-4 run that began with Johnson sandwiching his two threes around a Thomas jumper.

Yet with 4.1 seconds left, it was down to 90-87, with Sprewell at the foul line. He missed the first. He missed the second, too, but that's because Rose jumped in front of him so quickly, he almost blocked the free throw. Official Ed T. Rush whistled a lane infraction, gave Sprewell another shot, and he knocked it in, prompting one loud exhalation from the Garden crowd.

"Interesting," Rose said of the call.

Same goes for the series.

Serve has been held on each home floor, and now it's back to Indiana tomorrow, with Sprewell hurt, Camby hurt, Johnson hurt, and Ewing vowing to play hurt - and the Knicks all even, healthy again.

The Pacers insist they'll be ready.

"We played all year long to have home-court advantage," Mark Jackson said.

"We don't want to be too overconfident because we still have to get the job done, but the bottom line is they have to beat us in that building to move on. We look forward to Wednesday. We will be glad to be back home."

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