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NBA PLAYOFFS

Heat Feeling Some After Knicks Roll

Eastern Conference: Starks haunts Riley with 21 points as New York wins, 89-76, to take 3-1 lead.

May 13, 1997|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Et tu, John?

As if Pat Riley didn't have enough problems in Madison Square Garden, his former beloved John Starks came off the bench Monday night to drop 21 points on him, leading the Knicks to an 89-76 victory over the Heat and a chokehold 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

In their days together, Riley gave Starks so much rope, the other players used to call him "Riley's son." Monday, Starks strung up dear old dad.

"It feels kind of weird," Starks said afterward, "but Riles would tell you the same thing, you have to do your job.

"I respect him a great deal as a coach. I know he's going to go out there, he's all about winning. Like I say, he left his mark on this team and the guys who have been here understand what it means to win a championship and how to go about doing things to get to that point."

Unlike the first three games, which were taut from start to finish, this one was a Knick breeze, a suggestion their depth is getting to the undermanned Heat.

Even playing back-to-back, 34-year-old Patrick Ewing outscored 27-year-old Alonzo Mourning again, 20-13. For the series, Patrick leads, 86-71. Mourning went five for 16 from the floor, three for eight from the foul line (including an airball that the Garden crowd enjoyed greatly) and fouled out for the second time.

And that's Miami's franchise player, so you can imagine the state of the franchise.

For Riley, once prince of this city, it was another humiliating return. Garden fans no longer boo him mercilessly but they still boo him upon introduction and whenever his picture is flashed on the scoreboard TV screens and chant impolite things about him in the late stages of Knick victories, like this one.

Before Sunday's Game 3, Riley joked about wearing a rat mask when he came out--an allusion to the Pat the Rat headlines in the New York Post--but decided against it. The Heat took a 12-point lead in the first half Sunday but the Knicks ground them down in the second half. Riley slammed his hand into a railing on his way off the floor.

The worst was yet to come. The Knicks had won twice with almost nothing from Starks, Riley's one-time mad bomber, now converted into a reserve, recently voted the league's top sixth man.

In the first three games, Starks had 20 points--total--and missed 19 of his 24 shots.

In Game 4, the Starks bomb went off.

He missed his first three-point shot but with the clock running down in the first quarter, he hit his second. The Garden crowd, accustomed to his flights and plummets, cheered wildly.

Early in the second quarter, Starks made another three-point basket. The crowd sheered wildly again and Riley called time out.

"I just said, 'Don't let him get off,' " said Riley later. "I know John. I know he gets on a roll.

"You could see him turning the corner on the pick-and-roll tonight, getting open looks. He played very quick tonight."

It was too late. Starks was already on his roll, as were the Knicks. Instead of a tough, defensive game, the heat found itself fielding wave after wave of Knick fastbreaks. With Starks a threat and Allan Houston to worry about, Riley found he couldn't guard Knick Coach Jeff Van Gundy's three-guard lineup so he bypassed Dan Majerle and gave Willie Anderson his first playing time of the series.

"We're having trouble guarding their quickness," Riley said. "I'm trying to find a matchup where we can guard their perimeter players off the dribble."

It's late to be looking for answers, especially when you can't find them. The Knicks can end it in New York in Game 6 but are counting on landing the knockout blow on their former mentor in Miami in Wednesday's Game 5.

"It's important we close this series out," Starks said. "We expect Chicago to win its next game. We don't want them resting and waiting in the wings."

Their former mentor, of course, isn't worried about their schedule.

"We've been here before," Riley said. "We're very, very disappointed but we'll be ready. Everybody's going to write us off, the series is over, all that stuff, but we'll be ready to play Wednesday night."

If all he has is the same 12 players, they'd better be more than ready.

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