The saga continues
Knicks get past Pacers, advance to play Spurs in Finals
Posted: Sunday June 13, 1999 10:04 PM
NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- Talk about a team focused on a mission.
First, New York Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy is rumored to be on his way out and replaced by former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson. Then, the Knicks lose Patrick Ewing for the rest of the playoffs with a partially torn Achilles tendon.
When it seemed as though nothing else could go wrong ... it did. The Knicks lose Larry Johnson, their leading scorer during the Pacers' series, with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right leg.
Despite all of the distractions and injuries, New York overcame its underdog role to advance to the NBA Finals with one of their most remarkable victories ever, a 90-82 win over the Indiana Pacers.
"My mother always said what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Allan Houston said after the victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. "That's what happened to us, even in the playoffs. So even though, big, big, key components of the team may not have been with us at the time, we still believed in each other and believed in ourselves."
"Our guys have responded all year, and today I'm really proud of them," Van Gundy said. "This was about great, great play by a team that has developed itself into a true team and one that fought hard and played just to win."
When it ended, Childs flung the ball into the stands, many of the Knicks celebrated at center court and the Garden kept rocking for several minutes.
New York advanced to its first NBA Finals since 1994, becoming the first eighth-seeded team ever to get that far. But the Knicks may have to go against the San Antonio Spurs without two of their best big men to counter Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
But with the way the Knicks have been thriving amid all the complications, and with the way they finished Friday, there's no telling what they'll come up with next when the finals begin Wednesday night at the Alamodome.
Led by Houston, who was hitting jumpers from all angles and driving to the basket with a vengeance, the Knicks hit 10 of their first 13 shots of the fourth quarter and wrapped it up from the foul line in the final minute.
"It was more special that I thought it would be," Houston said. "You just can't put it into words. I didn't think about it when Larry went down. I just wanted to do what I could do the whole game, because if you think about those things you put more pressure on yourself."
Houston finished with 32 points, Sprewell had 20 and Camby 15, while Childs had nine points and four assists.
The Knicks' 27-23 record is the worst for a team to reach the finals since Houston was 40-42 in 1981.
"It's been a wild season from start to finish," Camby said. "Our goal's still not complete. We're on an emotional high. We'll have to find a way to win."
Rik Smits had 20 points and Jalen Rose added 16 for the Pacers, who were eliminated in the conference finals for the fourth time in six years. This, however, was the first time they couldn't take the series to a seventh game.
Reggie Miller, who never had the breakout game everyone was waiting for, shot just 3-for-18 and had eight points.
Smits picked up his fifth foul and a technical with 6:16 left, and New York went ahead 76-70 a little more than two minutes later on a three-point play by Houston.
A 3-pointer by Rose and a three-point play by Smits got the deficit down to three on two separate occasions before Smits picked up his sixth foul with 1:22 left. Camby hit two from the line to make it 82-76, and Miller and Rose missed 3-pointers on Indiana's next two possessions.
A fast-break layup by Sprewell got the lead to eight with 39 seconds left, but Rose cut it to four on a three-point play with 28 seconds left. Two more foul shots by Sprewell put the lead at six, Miller missed a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left and Childs wrapped it up with two free throws that made it 90-82 with 20 seconds left.
After the game, Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts again said he would sit down with Van Gundy at the end of the season to discuss the future.
Praising Van Gundy's strategy and all-around coaching skills, Checketts said: "I think it's one of the great stories in the history of the franchise. I couldn't be more proud of Jeff. I couldn't be more proud of the players."
Johnson's absence -- the Knicks said he was day-to-day with a sprained medial collateral ligament -- could leave the Knicks with just four big men -- Chris Dudley, Kurt Thomas, Camby and 41-year-old Herb Williams -- with which to face the Spurs.
"It's very frustrating," Ewing said of sitting out with the injury. "I wish I was able to play and help my teammates. I want to take part in the celebration."
Indiana was called for 35 fouls, more than twice as many as New York, and the Knicks went 27-for-33 from the line while the Pacers took just nine free throws.
"Let's hope the NBA Finals is a great series. They got what they wanted," a bitter Mark Jackson said.
Added Antonio Davis: "I didn't feel that our guys were given the opportunity to play great defense on (Houston). Every time they jumped up on him, it was a foul. I just feel we weren't able to put the kind of pressure on him that we're used to."
The Pacers also hurt themselves by committing 27 turnovers -- a huge number for a supposedly elite team.
The Knicks lost Johnson, their leading scorer in the series, midway through the second quarter when Travis Best bumped into the side of his knee after making a driving layup. Johnson stayed down on the floor under the basket for several minutes before being helped off, unable to put any weight on his right leg.
The Knicks led 28-26 when Johnson was injured, and they increased their advantage over the remainder of the quarter and led 41-35 at halftime. Given the way the game started, it was amazing New York was even in it.
The Knicks missed 13 of their first 14 shots and trailed 13-4 with 31/2 minutes left in the first. But Sprewell, who missed six of his first seven shots, hit a follow shot to start an 11-0 run bridging the first and second quarters that put the Knicks right back in it.
Two foul shots by Johnson and a fast break jumper by Houston gave New York an 18-17 lead early in the second quarter, and a jumper by Thomas made it 24-18 before the Pacers crept back within two on the play on which Johnson was injured.
Miller was just 2-for-2 from the field at halftime, and Sprewell was 3-for-12. Houston led all scorers with 14 points.
"When I had my big first half, I knew I wouldn't stop," Houston said.
Indiana began the second half with an 11-0 run ending with a 3-pointer by Miller for a 46-41 lead, but the Knicks came back and tied it with 4:20 left. There were four more ties the rest of the period before the fourth quarter began with the teams tied 59-all.
Notes: Best played for the first time after missing two games with a groin pull. He was noticeably hobbled but still managed a few burst of quickness and a timely 3-pointer early in the fourth when Jackson was in foul trouble. ... Jackson was finally called for an offensive foul on the back-in isolation play he has been using throughout the series. ... Van Gundy earned $4 million with the victory. His contract for the 2000-01 season becomes guaranteed, and he receives a $500,000 bonus. Asked if he felt like he won the lottery, he replied: "I won't even dignify that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.