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Knicks Fight Off Demons to Grab Edge This Time

May 19, 1994|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — All of those supposed demons were coming at the New York Knicks like a four-on-one fast break Wednesday night. The memories of last season's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Chicago, when Charles Smith missed four shots within arms' length of the basket. The memories of this season's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Chicago, when Toni Kukoc beat them with 1.8 seconds left.

Hubert Davis had something bigger, something more imposing, to deal with as he made two late free throws that gave the Knicks an 87-86 victory.

The notion of his disappointed father, among the 19,763 in Madison Square Garden, was the motivation as he stepped to the line with the game on the line. He blocked out everything else, including the Bulls' effort to freeze him by calling a timeout, then made the two shots with 2.1 seconds left that gave the Knicks a controversial victory and a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 Friday night at Chicago.

The Bulls, taking their optimistic notes where they can find them, can be thankful they didn't have to go out like this. History would not remember the exit fondly, not the memory of Scottie Pippen flying at Davis and fouling the second-year guard well after the shot. Nor the sight of the champions falling into their usual postgame retreat, Pippen bolting the locker room and Coach Phil Jackson issuing a terse comment before getting up from the interview table and leaving without taking questions.

"I've seen a lot of things in the NBA," Jackson said. "But I've never seen what happened at the end of a game like that."

There is no question Davis was fouled on the right arm on the straightaway jumper, only whether the referees would give him the whistle because the contact clearly came after the release. Veteran Hue Hollins called it without hesitation.

As Darrel Garretson, the league supervisor of officials and one of Wednesday's referees, said: "I think it's important to define what a shooter is. A shooter remains a shooter until he regains his balance on the floor."

Someone asked Davis if the foul affected the shot.

"His pressure affected the shot," Davis said. "It was a pretty much a late foul."

But did it cause him to miss?

"We'll never know," he said.

When Davis prepared for his first free throws of the night, he stayed far away from the line as long as possible, helping to ensure no one could say anything to him, trash talk or words of support. He took the ball and made the first for an 86-86 tie.

The Bulls called time out. Davis went to the Knick huddle and told everyone to leave him alone. Then he returned and swished the second shot.

Timeout, Chicago. All that remained was for the Knicks to hold on for the final 2.1 ticks, no small matter considering Kukoc's shot a few days earlier. Immediately, something was different this time. Pippen stayed in the game.

The Bulls called another time out, their last, when Pete Myers could not get the ball in from the right sideline at halfcourt. The crowd, which had earlier chanted, "Quitter! Quitter!" at Pippen when he was at the line, broke into "Sit down, Scottie!" Jackson reloaded and showed a similar formation to the one that resulted in the Game 3 win.

Then came the other difference. Myers went to Pippen cutting through the lane, but Anthony Mason knocked the pass away and John Starks picked it up to burn off the final moments. The Knicks, playing for the win and momentum heading back to Chicago, also got some redemption.

"It should be like this," Starks said. "Games should end like this, with great plays deciding who is the better team."

The Knicks, at least for a night.

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