Team Turmoil vs. Team Terrific
New York battles San Antonio for NBA championship
Posted: Tuesday June 15, 1999 12:21 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- So this is what the post-Jordan, post-lockout NBA has given us:
An atypical postseason in which a dysfunctional, injury-decimated No. 8 seed can advance to the final round against a team of former softies who now look like a superpower.
The New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs are this year's finalists, and for the first time in four years the main mid-June attraction will not be a baldheaded shooting guard with icewater in his veins.
This year's enticements are as interesting as they are new:
On paper, the series looks lopsided. San Antonio, with a 10-game postseason winning streak, was listed Saturday in Las Vegas as a 10-point favorite for Game 1 Wednesday night at the Alamodome.
That will be no surprise to the Knicks, who have been called underdogs -- and dogs -- all season long.
"We've come a long way, showed a lot of character," Ewing said. "We're right there knocking on the door, all we have to do is kick it open."
While much of New York was still basking in the afterglow of the Knicks' Game 6 victory Friday night over the Indiana Pacers, the Spurs were back at work in San Antonio trying not to underestimate an opponent that has overcome endless bouts of adversity.
"No one expects an eighth-seed to do what they did," coach Gregg Popovich said.
"And then when you see that Patrick's not there and Larry Johnson missed a big part of the game, of course that's a little bit surprising. When you think about the commitment they have to each other and how much they've played as a team, then it becomes a lot more plausible."
The Spurs know that the Knicks without Ewing are going to have big problems defending Duncan and Robinson. What they don't know is how they'll react to playing in a spotlight much brighter than anything they've been under before.
All season long, the Spurs have perplexed opponents who have had to choose strategies: Should they double-team Duncan and Robinson in the low post and try to make their teammates beat them? Or do they defend the Twin Towers with single coverage and try to keep everyone else in check?
The Knicks seem to subscribe to the latter theory.
"We know their big guys are going to get off and do things for their team," Sprewell said. "We have to contain the other guys and not let them be big parts."
By the time the finals begin, the Spurs will have had nine full days off since completing their sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals. San Antonio also swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round and won its final two games in the first round against Minnesota.
Their 10-game postseason winning streak is one shy of the NBA record of 11 set by the Lakers in 1989.
The Spurs also have a chance to eclipse the best postseason winning percentage in league history -- .923 by the Philadelphia 76ers, who went 12-1 in the 1983 playoffs. But it would take another four-game sweep to set that record.
The Knicks will bring a 6-2 postseason road record into Game 1, along with an extraordinary amount of confidence and cockiness that helped them overcome devastating injuries to Ewing and Larry Johnson during the series against the Pacers.
In their series against Miami, Atlanta and Indiana, the Knicks won the first game in their opponent's building each time.
"This is a team that has come together in spite of adversity, injuries, difficulties and uncertainties, and they clearly decided they wanted to win," team president Dave Checketts said.
San Antonio and New York did not play each other in the lockout-shortened season, so this will be their first meeting in more than 14 months.
The Spurs swept the season series in 1997-98, back when the Knicks were an old, plodding team of veterans who had no idea they'd be remade so soon into an athletic, run-and-gun team.
New York thrived in the conference finals when it was able to outrun the old and slow Pacers, and the Spurs will no doubt try to keep them in low gear and turn them into a team of jump shooters.
It's a sort of role reversal from the commonly held East vs. West theories that hold that the more wide-open style is always played by the team located farther left on the map.
In this wacky season, those old doctrines -- like a lot of commonly held beliefs -- have been turned upside down.
And that's why we have an NBA finals that just might be intriguing enough to make people forget, at least temporarily, that there used to be a fella wearing No. 23 who used to make this time of year his personal showcase.
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