Duncan, Spurs wear down Knicks, take Game 1
Posted: Sunday June 27, 1999 11:48 PM
SAN ANTONIO (CNN/SI) -- He may not be the league's most valuable player, but he is the reason the San Antonio Spurs are in the NBA Finals.
Tim Duncan did all his damage -- from inside, outside and medium range -- with his trademark calm demeanor and cool efficiency.
Playing the biggest game of his young NBA career, Duncan was virtually unstoppable as he led the San Antonio Spurs to a 89-77 victory over the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night.
He shot 13-for-21 for 33 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. That production, combined with several timely 3-pointers from Jaren Jackson and a strong all-around game from David Robinson, gave the Spurs three weapons the underdog Knicks couldn't match.
"I felt good coming back from such a long layoff. It was a great comeback for me," Duncan said of the nine days off between series. "I actually didn't feel as good as I felt in the Lakers series, but tonight was a good night for me. No doubt about that."
Before a crowd of almost 40,000, the second-largest ever at a finals game, the Spurs wore down the Knicks at both ends of the floor and never let them make a final push. It showed why San Antonio, which tied the NBA record for the longest postseason winning streak -- 11 games -- is such a prohibitive favorite to win this series.
Jackson had the hot hand when San Antonio needed it in the fourth quarter and finished with five 3-pointers and 17 points. Robinson shot just 3-for-10 but had 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
"Sometimes you have years when everything clicks, the team comes together and there's a bond on the floor that's real positive," Robinson said. "This is one of those teams."
Game 2 is Friday night at the Alamodome, and San Antonio will have a chance to break the record it now shares with Los Angeles. The Lakers also hold the overall playoff record, winning 13 straight postseason games in 1988 and 1989.
If there's any solace for the Knicks, maybe it's the fact that the Lakers' big streak a decade ago didn't lead to a title.
The Spurs haven't won one yet, either, but they sure looked ready to be a championship team.
San Antonio closed the first half with a 14-2 run to take the lead for good, made New York play catch-up after that and slammed the door shut midway through the fourth by preventing the Knicks from getting anything resembling an easy basket.
"I thought we were a bit frenetic offensively," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We were trying at times to create shots so hard I thought we were playing at a pace that lacked poise."
Duncan did a little of everything offensively, making seven jumpers from anywhere between 6 and 20 feet, six layups and seven foul shots.
If there was any rust from the Spurs' layoff after sweeping Portland in the Western Conference finals, it barely showed.
"We knew we'd come out a little rusty," Duncan said. "It took about a quarter to get everything going, a half to really get back to where we were."
Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston had 19 apiece to lead New York, which got an emotional boost -- but little else -- from the unexpected return of Larry Johnson from a sprained knee.
The Knicks scored just 10 points in the second quarter and 14 in the fourth, undoing all the damage they did by getting off to a strong start and staying within striking distance most of the way.
"The problem was not how we started, but the droughts in the second and fourth quarters," Van Gundy said. "That's not going to get it done, but that's a credit to their defense as well."
New York was still hanging around early in the fourth, pulling within six points on two occasions.
Both times, Jackson stopped them from getting any closer by hitting 3-pointers. The second one gave the Spurs a 77-68 lead with 8:06 left. The Knicks missed their next seven shots, committed two turnovers and lost Marcus Camby and Johnson to foul trouble in the next three minutes.
"We've got to take away Jaren Jackson," Van Gundy said. "Obviously, Duncan's going to score. We've got to take everything else anyway."
Duncan scored from in close to make it 80-68, then banked in another shot from the same spot to take a 14-point lead.
That was about all the Spurs needed, and they practically coasted the rest of the way.
"No question, this is the most fun," Robinson said. "Winning makes the fun factor a lot better."
This was the first time in this postseason that the Knicks have lost the opener of a series. They won against Miami, Atlanta and Indiana -- all on the road.
"I think this makes us more hungry," Houston said. "You can't expect to go out and win every Game 1 just because you did in the past."
Johnson was on the court for only 2:11 at the start of the game, and it was foul trouble, not his sore knee, that sent him to the bench.
Kurt Thomas replaced him and made an impact in the first quarter, grabbing seven rebounds -- the same as all the Spurs combined -- and scoring six points to help New York take a 27-21 lead after the first quarter.
The Knicks managed to hang onto that lead through the early part of the second quarter, but their fouls were adding up.
Johnson and Camby drew their third personal each before the midpoint of the quarter. Houston picked up his third foul late in the period, which ended with San Antonio ahead 45-37.
Duncan had 19 points and 10 rebounds at the half, while Robinson had 11 points. New York shot just 3-for-18 in the second quarter.
The Knicks knocked their deficit down to five early in the third period, but Duncan kept them from getting any closer. He hit three straight shots in a span of two minutes to give the Spurs a 60-50 lead with 4:51 left, and Sean Elliott and Jackson had 3-pointers to help San Antonio take a 71-63 lead entering the fourth.
Notes: Hall of Famer George Gervin threw up the ceremonial jump ball, using a red, white and blue ABA ball. The Spurs played in the ABA from 1967-76. ... The Spurs are trying to become the ninth team to win the NBA championship in their first finals appearance. It has been done only twice since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, by the Chicago Bulls in 1991 and the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977. ... Of the 266 best-of-7 series in NBA playoff history, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win the series 211 times (79.3 percent). ... This is the Knicks' eighth trip to the finals. They won titles in 1970 and 1973 and lost in 1994, 1972, 1953, 1952 and 1951. ... The attendance was 39,514. The finals record is 41,732 at the Silverdome for a Lakers-Pistons game June 16, 1988.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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