Knicks step up
Houston, Sprewell lead New York to Game 3 win
Posted: Monday June 28, 1999 12:07 AM
NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- Down 2-0, the New York Knicks were being backed into a corner and had to either fight their way out or take their lumps.
The Knicks came out fighting and put a few doubts in the minds of the favored Spurs and a little drama has crept into an otherwise boring NBA Finals.
Behind 34 points from Allan Houston in one of the best games of his career, New York defeated San Antonio 89-81 Monday night in Game 3, cutting its deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series and handing the Spurs their first loss in 41 days.
The Knicks never trailed, never let the Spurs' numerous comebacks rattle them and played what was easily their best all-around basketball of the series in the comfort zone of Madison Square Garden.
"Our true character was tested tonight, because this is first time in the playoffs that we lost the opener on the road and lost two in a row," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "You saw the true character of the Knicks. We hung in there when they were making runs and we were very resilient."
It was San Antonio's first loss since Game 2 of the first round back on May 11, and it ended the Spurs' NBA-record postseason winning streak at 12 games.
Game 4 is Wednesday night, and another victory by New York could make this once-lethargic, low-rated series as compelling as any.
To do so, the Knicks will need another night like the one they got from Houston -- an inspired display of clutch shooting on jumpers, drives and foul shots.
"I hope to be a pain in the neck and unstoppable," Houston said. "I just want to be consistent, I don't want to have 30-point nights and then go down and have 10."
Said Van Gundy: "Allan really had it rolling tonight. He has shown an ability to make critical shots. He has made several critical shots down the stretch, and that is a rare quality in this league."
Houston shot 10-for-24 from the field and 12-for-12 from the line as he tied his career playoff high. Latrell Sprewell added 24 and Larry Johnson had 16 for the Knicks, who have played their best all season just when things have looked most bleak.
Nothing would have been as daunting as facing a 3-0 deficit, and the Knicks played like they knew Game 3 was their only chance to give themselves an opportunity to win the series.
New York came out fired up, opening a 14-point lead in a first quarter in which they debuted yet another new starting lineup, replacing Chris Dudley with Marcus Camby.
"We wanted to get off to great start. In San Antonio, we were always trailing," Houston said. "We just wanted to stay aggressive. We got to the free-throw line tonight. We knew the shots would fall for us."
Added Sprewell: "We just came out with a lot of energy. ... If you can't come out with a big effort and poise, then you don't need to be out here."
The Spurs quickly cut into their first-half deficit and finally tied the game midway through the third quarter, but Houston answered with several clutch shots to restore the Knicks' lead.
San Antonio made one final charge in the fourth, but never got closer than four. One big reason was the lack of production from Tim Duncan, who was scoreless in the fourth as he missed all four of his shots.
"[Larry Johnson] did a great job, between him, Kurt Thomas and Chris Dudley they didn't give me the shots I can usually turn and make," Duncan said. "They did a great job throughout."
Duncan finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, doing little after the Knicks started triple-teaming him. Robinson led the Spurs with 25 points.
San Antonio shot 5-for-18 in the fourth quarter and committed six of its 20 turnovers.
"I don't know what you'd call this tonight," David Robinson said. "Our team absolutely hates to lose, and we always respond well after a loss. Always. Hopefully guys are going to take this personally and come back with some more focus and energy on Wednesday."
New York led 65-62 entering the fourth, and the lead grew to seven in the first minute as Sprewell scored on a difficult drive and Camby had a thunderous dunk off an offensive rebound for his first points of the game.
A jumper by Houston gave the Knicks a 10-point lead with 6:31 left, and the score was 80-71 with the clock ticking toward four minutes before the Spurs made their final push.
A three-point play by Robinson and a 3-pointer by Sean Elliott made it 81-77 with 3:13 left, but the threat ended quickly as Houston hit a 20-footer, Mario Elie missed a 3-pointer and Camby converted a short jumper to give the Knicks an 85-77 lead.
The Spurs had only one basket the rest of the way.
"We expected some adversity tonight, and we usually respond to that adversity," Robinson said. "We were kind of fighting uphill all night, and we had some opportunities, but they did what we usually do -- held off every run and kept their composure."
The Knicks played just about as well as they can in the first 12 minutes, not getting much of a lift from Camby but benefiting from two personal fouls each against Elie and Jaren Jackson, and technicals against Elie and coach Gregg Popovich.
"That had nothing to do with why the game was won or lost," Popovich said.
The technical against Popovich came after the referees waved off a 3-pointer that would have cut New York's lead to 22-15. Instead, the Knicks steadily increased their lead to as many as 14, 32-18 on a 3-pointer by Chris Childs with 8 seconds left in the quarter.
Antonio Daniels hit a 3-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer, and San Antonio began the second quarter with a 19-10 run to pull within two, 42-40, on a drive by Elliott on which it appeared he traveled.
New York led 49-46 at halftime behind 18 points from Houston, 12 from Sprewell and 10 from Johnson. Robinson had 14 and Duncan 12 for the Spurs.
Camby went to the bench with four fouls early in the third quarter, kicking a chair as he arrived at the bench still scoreless, but Houston hit a pair of jumpers and a pull-up 3-pointer on the fast break -- all in a span of 1:01 -- for a personal 7-0 run that put New York ahead 56-47.
The Knicks then missed their next 11 shots and allowed Duncan to tie it at 58 with 3:31 left in the third.
Houston then hit a 3-pointer as the 24-second clock expired and made two free throws with 1:41 left to reach 30 points, and New York took a 65-62 lead into the fourth.
"Every time we climbed in and could tie it or take the lead, something happened on the court where we couldn't get over the hump," Popovich said.
Notes: Robinson and Camby drew double personals and double technicals for pushing each other in the third quarter. ... Popovich, who had to be restrained by several coaches and players after being given a quick technical foul by referee Ronnie Nunn, kept up the argument later. "You didn't have to give me a 'T' " he said. Popovich was livid at several calls and non-calls during the remainder of the game. ... Knicks point guard Charlie Ward was booed when he went to the bench during the first half. He allowed two layups to Avery Johnson and mishandled a fast break. When Chris Childs hurt his knee later in the quarter, seldom used backup Rick Brunson saw some playing time. ... The 24-second clock malfunctioned several times.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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