NEW YORK — In a manner that astonished and delighted 17,480 at Madison Square Garden here Wednesday, the New York Knicks stretched their heart and nerve to miracle proportions when it was so easy to give up, trailing the Boston Celtics by 25 points in the second half.
But they fought and scratched and gutted it out until, finally--after two overtime periods and 2 hours 52 minutes--they escaped with a 113-104 victory, their third straight. It is a victory that will be savored by the 10-19 Knicks and recalled by the fortunate--or faithful--who did not walk out or turn off their television sets when Eastern Conference rival Boston led, 58-33, with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
"It shows we have heart," said Knick center Patrick Ewing, the team's heart and soul and driving force. He scored a career-high 32 points, 18 in the fourth quarter, and added 11 rebounds.
"I didn't know if we could come back and win," Rory Sparrow said, "but I knew we could make a better showing."
They did. Sparrow's two free throws with 34 seconds left in regulation and Trent Tucker's three-point jumper with 11 seconds left in the first overtime extended the Knicks' life until Ewing and a frantic Garden crowd took over. The Knicks outscored cold-shooting Boston, 16-7, in the final extra period to hand the Celtics (21-7) their fourth straight road loss.
"The building hung with us," said Coach Hubie Brown, ignoring the chorus of boos heard throughout the first three quarters when things looked bleak. "They didn't give up."
Neither did the Knicks. In the frantic second overtime, Ewing scored on a bank shot with 4:05 left that put the Knicks ahead for good.
Without another strong defensive effort, the Knicks wouldn't have had a chance. "They had only 104 points after regulation and two overtimes, and we're incredibly proud of that," Brown said.
Not only did the Knicks overcome the big deficit, but they battled back from a six-point deficit (86-80) with 1:51 left in regulation and from three down with 11 seconds left in the first overtime.
"Santa Claus came and he brought a big bag," guard Gerald Wilkins said.
It all started when Sparrow called a huddle after a timeout with that 25-point margin staring the Knicks in their faces. "I said, 'Let's make the next two minutes a personal thing. Don't let your man score for the next two minutes.' The next thing I knew, we were down by 13."
That's because the Knicks held the Celtics, who shot 34 % from the field, scoreless for nearly four minutes. The Knicks had dug their own valley by missing their first nine shots of the third quarter. But after Ernie Grunfeld hit a jumper with 6:09 left in the quarter, the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 20-5. The score after three quarters was 63-53.
From there, Ewing was dominant. Or, as he said, "In the end, I showed up." He scored 18 points in a span of 8:38 of the fourth quarter, including 12 straight at one point. "I wanted the ball," Ewing said. "I told Rory my shots were falling and I felt good."
Said Brown: "(Ewing's performance) was one of the great quarter-and-a-halfs I've seen since I've been in New York."
When Ewing was done, Sparrow tied the game at 86 with two free throws with 34 seconds left. The Knicks actually had a chance to win it then. Ewing blocked a shot by Kevin McHale, but Pat Cummings' jumper bounced off the rim. Overtime I.
In the first extra period, "I was thinking positive all the way," Boston center Robert Parish said. He had reason to. Ewing went to the bench with a hyperextended knee early in the first overtime, and Parish had two clutch players at his side in frontcourt partners Larry Bird and McHale. They scored 23 and 29 points, respectively, but shot only 8 of 27 and 7 of 21 from the floor. Furthermore, McHale scored only six points in the overtimes, and Bird scored only two. He twice missed jumpers in the last 33 seconds of the first overtime. "It was a real lousy exhibition," Bird said. McHale refused to talk afterward.
Ewing returned after being given the go-ahead by team doctor Mike Saunders and is expected to play tonight at Chicago against the Bulls.
"He said he could go," Brown said. "He had his hand up every time down court in crunch time."
Overtime II was the Knicks' from the start, at least mentally. "At that point, we felt like nothing was going to stop us," said Wilkins, who had 14 points.
The Celtics certainly couldn't.