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Knicks Take It to Heart, Get Even in Series

Pro basketball: With Ewing out, and Camby, Johnson and Sprewell hurting, New York still beats Indiana, 91-89.

May 30, 2000|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Uh, Commissioner, just to make sure: One of these teams will be playing for an NBA title in a week?

The Pacers, who are supposed to be the favorites in the Eastern finals, just lost--again--to the Knicks, who still were without Patrick Ewing, had Latrell Sprewell playing on a broken little toe and won, 91-89, Monday behind 25 points by Larry Johnson, who, of course, sat out the off-day practice with a sore back.

The series is tied, 2-2. What does that tell you about the Pacers, who were eyeing the Lakers and feeling good about their playoff roll before arriving in Manhattan?

A year ago, when the Knicks beat them with their Disappearing Patrick trick, everyone thought it was remarkable, inspirational. . . .

Now? It's commonplace.

"Well," said Pacer Coach Larry Bird, managing a grin, "obviously they've got Oral Roberts here working for them and that usually helps mend you pretty quick.

"We knew them guys. We thought Patrick was going to play today. We knew [Marcus] Camby was coming back. And we knew Sprewell was gonna play. It wasn't a big surprise."

Knick games now start with a briefing from the team physician 90 minutes beforehand. Dr. Norman Scott announced Monday that Sprewell would play despite the broken little toe on his left foot, Camby's sore right knee was better and Ewing, who was "much better," would be a game-time decision.

This is a heck of a way to go through the playoffs, but the Knicks have been doing it for two years now.

"Lot of heart," Bird said the day before. "I think it's not only the players but it's great coaching because coaching gets you to keep focused and keep playing through all the adversities they had. That's unbelievable."

Once game time arrived, the decision on Ewing was no.

The Knicks then went out and rained in shots from everywhere, led by Johnson, who had three points in Game 1 and then became unguardable in Game 2 after Ewing was hurt.

The Knicks scored on 11 of their first 13 possessions, shooting 78% in the first quarter, scoring 57 points in the first half and taking a 57-40 lead into the third quarter. The same team averaged 81 points in its second-round victory over Miami and scored 76 in one overtime game. If the Pacers let them get 57 by halftime, how many might the Lakers run up?

These days, the Knicks torture the Pacers from the moment they arrive, serenading them with a song called "Four-Point Play" while a video on the scoreboard shows Johnson making the famous shot last spring, being fouled by Antonio Davis, celebrating and returning to make the winning free throw . . . over . . . and over . . . and over.

Monday, the Pacers got the full treatment, the video and Johnson in person, knocking down more threes over... and over... and over... and over... and over. Five in five attempts. This time the Pacers couldn't even console themselves with the thought they were cheated as part of a conspiracy.

Reggie Miller led a furious comeback, bringing the Pacers to within 77-76, after a three-pointer with 6:51 left.

At the other end, New York's Kurt Thomas took a 15-footer and Indiana's Austin Croshere blocked it.

There was a scramble for the ball. Camby tipped it to Johnson in the corner with the last seconds running off the shot clock.

Johnson banged in a three-pointer, making it 80-76, and the Pacers buckled.

At the end, Indiana still was within three points when Sprewell missed two free throws with six seconds left.

However, Indiana's Jalen Rose jumped into the lane theatrically to block out Sprewell and was called for being in the lane too early. Sprewell then made the extra free throw to ice the game.

In other words, no matter what it took to tie the series, the Knicks were capable of doing it. So were the Pacers.

"I look at our team like Portland," Sprewell said. "If they lose, say, Scottie Pippen or Rasheed [Wallace] or somebody, they're still gonna be good. They have a bunch of people that can come in and play and help them be effective."

Now it's back to Indianapolis for Game 5. Maybe Ewing will be back, except by now, it's hard to tell who it will help.

Whatever happens, meet next week's underdog.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

* Game 1: Indiana 102, New York 88

* Game 2: Indiana 88, New York 84

* Game 3: New York 98, Indiana 95

* Game 4: New York 91, Indiana 89

* Wednesday at Indiana, 6 p.m., Ch. 4

* Friday at New York, TBA, Ch. 4

* Sunday at Indiana, TBA, Ch. 4*

* if necessary; times are Pacific

NBA FINALS

With the Knicks' victory over the Pacers Sunday in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, the NBA Finals will now start Wednesday, June 7 in the Western Conference city.

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