SAN ANTONIO — Hello darkness, their old friend.
It wasn't much of a trip for the Knicks, who had their bubble pricked and their illusions destroyed in the space of three days, going from a team of destiny back to a seething anthill of unrest. In New York, when the clock strikes 12, your carriage not only turns into a pumpkin, but B-52s fly over and drop a full load on it.
They averaged 72 points in two games, which isn't enough to win even in the regular season of today's NBA. Friday the Spurs carried them for three quarters in a ghastly game that became the second lowest-scoring in finals history, but there wasn't enough left of the Knicks to walk through the door, even if someone left it open.
The Knicks shot a cool 32.9%. When they fired from the outside, they mostly missed. When they took it inside, they mostly got them blocked. David Robinson knocked down five and Tim Duncan had four, or 11% of New York's shots.
Late Friday night, someone, perhaps clinging to a last sliver of hope, asked Knick Coach Jeff Van Gundy if maybe the Alamodome wasn't affecting his team's shooting.
"I think you take those two guys out of there and we'll shoot the ball a little bit better," he said, chortling. "The damn dome--yeah, with those guys."
Whatever they're paying that little guy, it's not enough. They almost fired him before sacking General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, instead. They offered his job to Phil Jackson. They kept dropping hints he was in trouble, until the Knicks won the East.
For a honeymoon, he got a full weekend off before the series opened and Sports Illustrated ran a three-dot note at the bottom of a story, claiming Latrell Sprewell had told friends he didn't want to play for Van Gundy next season. This was just another version of the Spree-seeks-trade story that has been kicking around for weeks but with the Knick press corps needing quotes at the shoot-around before Game 1--since the games end just before midnight on the East Coast--this was like tempting sharks with filet mignon.
Of course, everybody denied everything. Sprewell said he just wanted to start. Marcus Camby said he wasn't the source of the story. The New York Times quoted an unidentified friend of Camby as saying: "I think it would be helpful if Jeff tried to establish some relationship with Marcus, like he has built with Larry Johnson and Patrick Ewing over the years. Right now, there's no relationship."
Then the Knicks lost Game 1, although Van Gundy said later, he was sure they hadn't been distracted.
"I don't think our team can be distracted," he said. "If it couldn't be distracted by now, it's not going to be by some new report. . . .
"If they can get you on results, they get you on results. If they can't get you on results, they get you on the relationships."
If you don't win, you lose. If you lose in New York when expectations are high, it's not pretty, even if a fifth-grader in Kansas could recognize this is just a simple case of a team being out-manned.
Of the Knicks' 82 shots Friday, their guards plus Latrell Sprewell took 53. Power forward Larry Johnson, who's supposed to be their post-up threat, took seven three-pointers and only five shots inside the arc, several of which Duncan and Robinson marked return to sender.
"You've got to either dunk the ball or get it over those guys or find [pass to] someone else," said Sprewell after getting off his usual 22 shots, of which he missed 14.
"And usually when you're attacking the basket, you're going to the rim and here comes a seven-footer . . . "
If the Knicks had a chance, it's fleeing. The Spurs need players like Avery Johnson, Mario Elie, Sean Elliott and Jaren Jackson to make outside shots to be a great team and none is exactly Glen Rice. When they go 12 for 35 as they did Friday, the Spurs are pretty ordinary.
If someone could have ever put pressure on them in this postseason, by stealing a game here and going up on them at home, who knows how clammy their hands might have gotten?
Of course, with all their injuries, the Knicks are already pretty ordinary. Game but ordinary.
The series moves to New York, where the Knicks will have to endure three days of tabloid hell before NBC lets play resume on Monday, when we'll see if the home team can call down the lightning one more time. They're going to need all they can summon.