The Spurs' squeeze
Second-quarter defense stopped Knicks, set tone for game
Posted: Thursday June 17, 1999 02:49 AM
By John Donovan, CNN/SI
SAN ANTONIO -- It was only a stretch of a few minutes, and in the first half of the first game in a best-of-seven series, too.
But the defensive clamps the San Antonio Spurs put on New York’s big scorers in the second quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals -- after a first quarter in which the Knicks could do no wrong -- has to have Jeff Van Gundy tossing in what little sleep he’s getting.
One thing’s for sure: Van Gundy better find an answer to free his shooters, or this series will get out of hand before he can say “airball.”
Houston and teammate Latrell Sprewell staked the Knicks to a 27-point first quarter and a six-point lead thanks to their sizzling shooting. But in the second quarter, saddled by three early fouls, Houston was held to just four shots.
And Sprewell was held to just three.
“I have to give him and the defense credit,” Houston said of Elie and the Spurs. “But at the same time, in the first [quarter], I was more aggressive in getting the ball where I wanted to get the ball.
“I have to make sure I get the ball in the right spots, and he did a good job of taking it away from me sometimes ...”
Sprewell, who scored six points in the first quarter on 3-of-6 shooting, made only one of his three shots in the second quarter. Sean Elliott was the man guarding him for most of the night.
“We’re just trying to back off Spree,” Spurs guard Steve Kerr said. “He’s just so fast, we’re going to make him hit the jumpers -- although he can do that, too. And we’re going to try to make him go left. He never goes left. Thing is, he’s so quick, sometimes he can go right anyway.”
The defense on Sprewell and Houston enabled the Spurs to hold the Knicks to 10 points in the quarter and turned the six-point Knicks lead into an eight-point halftime lead for the Spurs.
New York never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
Houston and Sprewell finished with 19 points apiece, but every one of them was hard-earned. Sprewell was 9-of-24 shooting, while Houston was 7-of-17.
San Antonio, which led the NBA in defensive field-goal percentage this season, held New York to a miserable 38.3 percent from the field for the game.
The mark was 16.7 percent for the second quarter.
“Allan’s tough, man. I had to get into him. He was running me into screens,” Elie said. “It’s important for me to get up on him, and deny him the ball as much as I can.”
If Elie and the Spurs can keep denying Sprewell and Houston, they’ll be no denying San Antonio their first NBA title.
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