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Knicks Can't Take the Heat

NBA playoffs: Suspensions help Miami overcome 3-1 deficit, end New York's hopes, 101-90.

May 19, 1997|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — OK, now you can leave the bench.

In the Bible, the peacemakers may be blessed, but in the NBA, they're going home. Miami blasted the Knicks into submission and summer, 101-90, Sunday as fans serenaded the visitors with the same rude chant New Yorkers sang to Heat Coach Pat Riley.

The Heat becomes the sixth NBA team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and a decided underdog in the Eastern Conference finals unless the NBA suspends a Bull a game, and even then it won't make much difference until it gets to Michael Jordan.

For the Knicks, everything went wrong. Key players got suspended, like Patrick Ewing in Game 6. Key players returned rusty, like Allan Houston in Game 7. Guarantees--"See you in Chicago," said Ewing before flying here--meant nothing.

Ewing might as well have been alone in the first half, when the Knick guards, Houston and Chris Childs, combined to shoot two for 13 with seven turnovers.

Miami was up by 17 by then and nothing--including a long rest in the third period by the Human Loose Ball Foul, Alonzo Mourning--could unseat the Heat.

"This is just an incredible opportunity for us," said a gracious Riley, "in a short two years to get to this level.

"I also know it was very disconcerting for the Knicks. I don't blame them. What happened [the five suspensions for Games 6 and 7] turned this whole thing around and upside down . . .

"It doesn't take away from us. I mean, that's something for you [the press] to decide. We can't be worried about that. We wanted to advance. That's what this is about, surviving and advancing.

"I do feel great compassion for Patrick, I really do. And Jeff [Van Gundy, Knick coach and his former assistant] and the guys I worked closely with all that time. I said the other day when I had my discussion with Rod Thorn [NBA basketball operations chief], I said, 'Why don't you just sort of wipe everything clean and let's just play it straight up?'

"You know, when I knew P.J. [Brown] was going to miss two games--and of course, they wouldn't do that."

Instead, the league barred Brown from Games 6 and 7, along with Ewing, Houston and Charlie Ward for Game 6 and Larry Johnson and John Starks for Game 7.

There were extenuating circumstances--the fight's location at the Knicks' end of the floor, the fact four Knick regulars were on the bench, the accidental presence of referee Dick Bavetta in front of the Miami bench that helped restrain Heat players--but the league went for the maximum penalty, including Ewing, who took only a few steps off the sideline.

Of course, before that, the Knicks had been presented with a perfect opportunity to close out the series, a 35-point Miami first half in what became a tumultuous Game 5, but let the Heat off the hook, something else they'll lament in the long, cruel summer awaiting them.

In Game 6, although the Knicks insisted they had enough players to play, they didn't have enough to score and the Heat ground them down in the fourth quarter to win, 95-90.

In Game 7, even without the mercurial Starks, the Knicks did have enough players. They just didn't play.

Leading, 6-2, early, they let the Heat go 18-0 in a horrid span of 5:03, starting with six possessions in which they turned the ball over five times (two each by Childs and Houston) and missed a layup (rookie John Wallace, starting in place of Johnson.)

Nothing improved for the Knicks after that. Tim Hardaway, who went 13 for 49 in Games 3, 4 and 5, scored 38 in Game 7. With Mourning out in the third quarter, Hardaway scored a blazing 11 points in the last 3:11, including three three-point baskets, one from the vicinity of Fort Lauderdale. Miami had an 11-point lead when Mourning left with 8:58 left in the period and a 17-point lead when it ended.

Van Gundy, sizzling, wouldn't complain ("I'm just going to take the high road on all that stuff") but Ewing, gallant in this one-sided defeat with 37 points, laid his heart on the podium.

"In a way, I feel like I was robbed," Ewing said, "but that's life. . . . I believed in my teammates. I thought we had a great team. The chemistry was great. Everything was great. We played extremely well but it just didn't happen.

"I still don't think I did anything to be suspended for, but that's the way the NBA is."

NBA Note

Commissioner David Stern defended the NBA's decision to suspend five Knicks for leaving the bench during an altercation, even if it might have cost the Knicks the series. "I think it is our job to set rules," Stern said. "If you step on the baseline and it costs you the game because you are out of bounds, fans don't say they shouldn't take the ball away from us. These are just the rules we have."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Playoff Comebacks

NBA teams that have won a best-of-seven playoff series after falling behind 3-1:

1968: *Boston

d. Philadelphia in Eastern Div. final

1970: Lakers

d. Phoenix in Western Div. final

1979: Washington

d. San Antonio in Eastern Conf. final

1981: *Boston

d. Philadelphia in Eastern Conf. final

1995: *Houston

d. Phoenix in Western Conf. semifinals

1997: Miami

d. New York in Eastern Conf. semifinals

*--Won NBA championship

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