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NBA PLAYOFFS

Heat Proves It Has Some Fight Left

Pro basketball: A brawl ensues in the closing minutes as the Knicks lose, 96-81, forcing a Game 6.

May 15, 1997|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — They had their backs against the wall. The New York Knicks were at the gate. What could the Miami Heat do but . . .

Raise ticket prices?

The fans were revolted. Game 5 was revolting. Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning combined to shoot seven for 29 and the halftime score was 35-34, but in a rare pleasant development for embattled local fans, the Heat won, 96-81, prolonging its season and cutting the Knicks' lead to 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

It was more a game-marred fight than a fight-marred game, featuring a wrestling match between Miami's P.J. Brown and the Knicks' Charlie Ward. They were ejected, along with John Starks, joining Charles Oakley, who was bounced earlier.

The referees noted five of the seven Knicks on the bench joined in the melee--raising the possibility of suspensions for Game 6, up to a maximum of three.

Starks made an obscene gesture to the crowd and was pelted with debris as he left the floor.

Heat Coach Pat Riley blamed Starks for "instigating" the fight.

"I was just talking to some guys," Starks said, grinning. "I figured Riles was gonna say that. That's Coach."

The Knicks' Buck Williams blamed Riley.

"What you need to do is fine these coaches," Williams said. "Then you can eradicate these problems. That's what happened tonight. It's so unfortunate because the guilty party will not be suspended.

"Coach Riley did a good job inciting this kind of behavior in his team. The physical play that got out of hand during the game, I think it was all a consequence of Pat Riley the last two or three days appealing to the basketball team . . .

"It was pretty much like a time bomb waiting to explode."

If the Heat wasn't a time bomb, the players were as inspired as Riley, the $50,000-per-speech motivational expert, could get them. Between games, he read the players their quotes after their last loss, noting none of them insisted they'd come out fighting in Game 5.

Meanwhile, other Heat officials sought to downplay the furor surrounding the price increase that more than doubled the price of the 4,000 seats available to the non-season-ticket-holding general public, or, as a marketing official named Jay Cross called them, "our fair-weather friends."

The game took on a familiar pattern. The Heat started fast. The Knicks caught up. Mourning got in foul trouble.

With 7:11 left in the second quarter, Mourning got his third foul--he bumped Ward going for an offensive rebound--and had to sit down for the rest of the half. The Heat was already down, 28-26, and a window of opportunity opened for the Knicks.

Not that they could go through it. In an agonizing quarter of basketball, the Heat wound up scoring 14 points, the Knicks 12. The Knicks shot 33%, turned the ball over seven times and shot 40% from the free-throw line.

This team thinks it's going to beat the Bulls?

"We gave them life," Knick Coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "They were struggling. If we had played good basketball, we would have had a cushion in the second half."

The Heat led, 35-34, at halftime. It was 40-40 in the third quarter when--you guessed it--Mourning got in foul trouble again. This time it was even more senseless than usual. He let Charles Oakley fake him off the ground from behind the three-point line, and came down on top of him for foul No. 4.

Out went Mourning again, with 9:39 left in the period, to wait it out until the fourth quarter. Another window of opportunity opened for the Knicks.

Without Mourning, with nothing from Hardaway, who was working on a three-for-17 night, the Heat went on a 20-10 run and moved ahead to stay. Voshon Lenard, whose scoring totals in the series had been 2-2-22-4, popped awake again and scored 10 of the 20 Miami points.

After that, the Knicks played catch-up but couldn't.

Late in the game, shortly after Oakley was ejected for pushing Mourning and complaining to referee Dick Bavetta, the teams lined up for a free throw. Ward, the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, seemed to dive at Brown's knees. The 6-11 Brown picked up the 6-1 Ward, turned him over and dumped him off the court. Many Knicks and Heat players came running over and jumped on the pile.

"He must have had flashbacks to Florida State," Brown said later. "If you look at it objectively, you'll see he went right for my knees, like he was playing football. If he wants to play football, go back to Florida State."

They pulled the participants apart and started banishing the principals. Starks made his obscene gesture to the crowd, he said, "because I felt like it."

The league is expected to announce fines and/or suspensions today.

The NBA, some nights it's more fan-tastic than others.

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