Knicks cruise by Hawks
New York looks to clinch series with win on Monday
Posted: Sunday May 23, 1999 11:40 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Attention Phil Jackson: Your possible team of the future -- if you're still interested -- is one victory away from the Eastern Conference finals.
On another day of bizarre twists and turns with the New York Knicks, team president Dave Checketts pulled a flip-flop and admitted contacting Jackson to see whether he was interested in coaching the team. Jackson said he would be.
Meanwhile, Chris Dudley, Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby led another superb effort from the second unit that sent the Knicks to a 90-78 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday for a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Game 4 is Monday night, and another victory would give the Knicks a four-game sweep and five days off before facing the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
By then, the intrigue over the team's coaching situation only figures to deepen.
Some of Sunday's best action took place off the court after The New York Times and Daily News reported that Checketts, president of Madison Square Garden and acting president of the Knicks, had secretly met with Jackson in mid-April when the team was struggling and in danger of missing the postseason.
After issuing a blanket denial through his spokesman before the game, Checketts suddenly changed his story during the second half and admitted contacting the coach who won six titles with the Chicago Bulls.
"While I've never met or spoken to Phil and or [his agent] Todd Musburger, through an intermediary we did talk to Phil among other people at one point ... to see if there was any interest," Checketts said through a spokesman. "There was [interest], and we left it that and said we'll see you at the end of the season."
Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy refused to comment on the reports either before or after the game.
"I'm just worried about getting one more win in this series," he said.
Van Gundy's father, Bill, was asked on the NBC telecast whether the job security uncertainly was affecting his son.
"Just look at him, he looks like he's 105," the elder Van Gundy said, adding that his 37-year-old son knows that speculation over coaching changes is part of the business. "He learned that from the greatest coach in NBA history, Pat Riley."
Patrick Ewing, who has said he will demand a trade if the club hires Jackson as coach, would only smile and shake his head after the game when told of Checketts' admission. His teammates also steered clear of the controversy, saying their only concern was beating Atlanta on Monday.
"I'm not listening to it and I'm not talking about it," Allan Houston said.
Playing before a sellout crowd that chanted "sweep, sweep" throughout the fourth quarter, the Knicks had a relatively easy time with a Hawks team that looked totally overmatched.
Dudley had 14 points and 12 rebounds in one of his best games in a Knicks uniform, while Sprewell and Houston added 17 points apiece and Camby contributed 15.
The Knicks committed a season-low eight turnovers, held the Hawks to 11 points in the third quarter and coasted through the fourth to move within one victory of their first conference finals appearance since 1994. That series will not start until next Sunday at the earliest.
"It'll be a blessing if we can get him some rest," Larry Johnson said of hobbled teammate Ewing. "I don't know if five days will make Patrick into the old Patrick, but it'll make him closer to 100 percent."
Like in Games 1 and 2, the Knicks were at their best when they started running and gunning.
A steal and fast-break dunk by Camby, a fast-break layup by Sprewell and another fast-break layup by Johnson broke a tie and put the Knicks ahead 35-29, and they led 52-46 at halftime behind 10 points from Sprewell.
Charlie Ward started the third quarter with a 3-pointer, and a layup by Johnson with 8:04 left made it 59-47 and caused Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens to call a timeout.
The lead grew to 61-47 before Mookie Blaylock ended the Hawks' 0-for-10 drought with 6 1/2 minutes left in the third, but Atlanta shot just 4-for-20 in the quarter and never threatened in the fourth.
"You have to have pride," Wilkens said. "Nobody wants to be swept."
Notes: Camby had his first two dunk attempts blocked by Dikembe Mutombo, then met with success on his third attempt. ... Fan favorite Herb Williams got into the game late in the fourth quarter and shot an airball on his only attempt from the field. ... Grant Long and Steve Smith led the Hawks with 17 points apiece. ... Ewing scored four points, making it just the 34th time in 984 career games that he failed to reach double figures. He has been slowed by Achilles' tendinitis and sore knees.
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