Knicks finish off Hawks
N.Y. becomes first eighth seed to advance to third round
Posted: Tuesday May 25, 1999 08:49 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- To a chorus of nearly 20,000 people chanting Jeff Van Gundy's name, the New York Knicks made it to the Eastern Conference finals Monday night -- even if they didn't necessarily save their coach's job.
"I don't think they've ever done that for any coach," Patrick Ewing said after a full house at Madison Square Garden got up on its feet and voted with its collective voice while the Knicks were completing a 4-0 sweep of the Atlanta Hawks with a 79-66 victory.
"It was very kind of them, very nice. I appreciated it very much," Van Gundy said after another day of politicking off the court and precision on it ended with New York's first sweep of a seven-game series in 30 years.
As they did in the first three games, the Knicks won with ease and became the first eighth-seeded to advance to the third round.
They move on to a conference finals matchup with the Indiana Pacers beginning next Sunday, a series that Van Gundy will enter without knowing whether his job is safe for next season.
Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts met with Van Gundy before the game and apologized to him for lying about his secret meeting with former Bulls coach Phil Jackson in mid-April when the Knicks were struggling. But rather than give Van Gundy a vote of confidence or some kind of reassurance, Checketts again said the fate of the coach and the players will be decided at the end of the season.
"He explained himself to me and I listened," Van Gundy said. "It's a non-issue to me. The only thing I was worried about tonight was getting one more win, and now all I'm concerned with is trying to get back to the finals.
"I know how good it felt to be there in 1994 [as an assistant], how hard it was to get there and how hard it was to get the opportunity to get there. Everything else to me is a dead issue."
With the Knicks safely ahead in the third quarter, the fans started chanting "We Want Reggie" in reference to Knicks nemesis Reggie Miller of Indiana.
Late in the fourth quarter, a much louder chant was given to Van Gundy, along with a standing ovation -- a first at the Garden for the beleaguered fourth-year coach.
"I've already stated what my position is on Jeff and Phil Jackson," said Ewing, who has vowed not to play for Jackson if the Knicks hire him. "All I'm concerned about now is getting myself and the team ready to play against the Pacers."
The Knicks and Indiana will be meeting in the postseason for the fifth time this decade, including two conference finals. The last time they met with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake was 1994 when New York won in seven games. Last season, Indiana ousted the Knicks 4-1 in the second round.
Defensively, the Knicks held Atlanta to 29 percent shooting from the field for the second time in the series.
"I'm very proud of my teammates. They've done a fabulous job, and hopefully they can get me a ring," Ewing said. "As I've said before, there's no team in the NBA I fear. If we play the way we've been playing, the sky's the limit."
Steve Smith had 14 points on 5-for-20 shooting to lead the Hawks, whose shortened rotation due to injuries doomed their chances against the much deeper Knicks. The Hawks have not made it to the conference finals since 1969-70, their second season in Atlanta after moving from St. Louis.
The Knicks took the lead for good on two free throws by Kurt Thomas that made it 5-4 just over four minutes into the first quarter. A steal and two-handed dunk by Sprewell with 6:50 left in the second quarter made it 35-24, and a free throw by Houston with 1:36 left in the third upped New York's lead to 18.
Chris Dudley, the hero of Game 3, tossed in a layup with 7:40 left in the fourth to put the Knicks ahead by 24, and the only consolation for the Hawks was besting their playoff record-low of 63 on a foul shot by Dikembe Mutombo with 56 seconds left.
"They came out and played well, we didn't and we're going home," Smith said. "They played the same way throughout the series: They played good on both ends, played together, and everyone who came in chipped in well."
Notes: The Knicks' last sweep of a seven-game series came in 1969 against Earl Monroe and the Baltimore Bullets. ... Smith and Atlanta assistant coach Phil Hubbard got into a heated shouting match midway through the third quarter. ... Thomas blew two dunks. ... Larry Johnson of the Knicks did not score in 30 minutes. ... Atlanta's Mookie Blaylock shot 3-for-15, making him 21-for-66 in the series.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.