Slow 'em down
Hawks need to bring Knicks down a notch to save series
Posted: Thursday May 20, 1999 12:11 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- No offense, but the run-and-shoot doesn't seem to work against the New York Knicks. They're simply too young, too quick and too deep for the Atlanta Hawks, who know they had better find a way to bring New York down to their level for a bruising, low-scoring, half-court game Thursday night.
If not, this Eastern Conference semifinal could be over -- and it's barely even started. "The defense has got to pick up, period," Atlanta guard Mookie Blaylock said after Wednesday's two-hour practice at the Georgia Dome. "We can't let them score the way they scored."
Clearly, there was no defense for the way the Hawks played in Game 1 Tuesday. New York, hardly looking like an eighth-seeded team, jumped ahead in the best-of-7 series with a 100-92 victory that really wasn't that close as Allan Houston scored 34 points and Latrell Sprewell added 31.
Atlanta faces a virtual must-win situation in Game 2, before the series shifts to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4.
"We knew Atlanta didn't have a deep bench, so we tried to get their starting five tired," Knicks forward Kurt Thomas said. "We just ran the ball. We played well and with a lot of confidence."
The Knicks hardly seemed the type of team to cause a defensive meltdown, ranking 27th in the league with an average of 86.4 point per game.
The Hawks, meanwhile, were the NBA's top defensive team, allowing a mere 83.4 points on average. Only four players scored more than 30 points against Atlanta and just three teams managed to reach triple figures.
Obviously, Houston and Sprewell had not seen those numbers. "It makes it tough," said Chris Crawford, who kept the Hawks close with a career-high 26 points. "You can't key on one guy or the other one will hurt you, too. We've got to come out with more intensity on defense. That's been a key for us all year."
The Knicks looked downright unstoppable except for a lull in the second quarter when Crawford led a 13-0 run that gave the Hawks a 50-48 lead at halftime.
"We came out aggressive," New York's Larry Johnson said. "We wanted to attack the basket at all times, and we did that well."
In addition to shooting 50 percent in every quarter but the second, the Knicks held a 40-32 advantage on the boards against a team that was top 10 in every rebounding category.
"We talked about attacking before the defense is set," said New York coach Jeff Van Gundy, making a strong run at keeping his job after a disappointing regular season. "But to do that, you have to get stops and rebounds. And the rebounding part has been the hardest part for us - keeping them off the boards. That was a critical factor."
Crawford, who missed the last three games of the opening-round victory over Detroit with a separated shoulder, returned to give the bench a much-needed boost. But he was the only reserve to contribute significantly, and the Knicks blamed themselves for allowing him to get too many clear looks at the basket.
"I don't want to take anything away from Chris Crawford," Johnson said. "But any player that's wide open is going to hit his shots."
Even with the lead after two quarters, Atlanta should have known it was out of its element. In winning two of three from the Knicks during the regular season, the Hawks allowed an average of 76.7 points.
But New York has been a different team in the playoffs, knocking off top-seeded Miami in the first round before taking the homecourt advantage away from the Hawks.
Patrick Ewing played only 17 minutes in Game 1 due to foul trouble, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds. It didn't matter, since the Hawks had no one who could stop Houston or Sprewell.
"We're playing well right now," Sprewell said. "Regardless of all that's been said, we can play together."
Can the Hawks, who started five over-30 players in Game 1, find a way to keep up with the high-flying Knicks?
"It ain't quickness," Blaylock insisted. "We've got some quick guys on this team. The key to our defense is shot selection."
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