Defense dooms Knicks in Game 4
Posted: Thursday June 24, 1999 01:55 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Knicks finally found their offense, only to lose their defense and rebounding.
All season long, coach Jeff Van Gundy has compensated for a team with limited scoring potential by emphasizing other elements of the game. "We are a defensive, rebounding team," he often said.
In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, both those cornerstones deserted them and the result was a 96-89 loss to the San Antonio Spurs that left New York trailing the best-of-7 series 3-1.
For the Knicks to score 89 points and lose is an indictment of their defense, second-best in the league this season. This is a team that was averaging 77.7 points per game in this series. The Knicks scored 12 points more than that in Game 4 and still lost by seven.
They were beaten off the boards 49-34 and that doomed them.
"We scored enough points tonight," Van Gundy said. "Points was not the problem. The problem tonight was in particular the rebounding."
Much of that occurred in the second half when the Spurs won the backboard battle 31-16.
Marcus Camby, limited by foul trouble through the first three games of the series, played 37 minutes and scored 20 points with 13 rebounds. But he couldn't make much of a dent in San Antonio's 7-foot twin towers of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, who combined for 42 points, 35 rebounds and seven blocked shots. It was just too much for the Knicks to overcome.
"Size does matter in this league," Van Gundy said. "Their size beat our speed and quickness tonight because not only did they affect us on the boards and in the post scoring, but every penetration was a difficult, difficult shot because of their shot blocking.
"We knew we were going to have to defend and rebound the ball. Our rebounding was not nearly good enough to win a finals game."
It was a night of bad signs for New York and it started early when they scored 29 points in the first quarter, surprising offense for a team with a reputation for poor shooting.
But they were trading basket for basket with the Spurs and that meant trouble. It was a pace they couldn't keep up.
By the half, the Spurs had 50 points, hardly the kind of defense New York is accustomed to playing. After three quarters, the Knicks trailed by nine. They wouldn't score 29 points in a quarter again and their defense couldn't get the Spurs under 22.
New York had been allowing 82.6 points per game in its improbable playoff run. That was down from a regular season average of 85.4, second in the league.
The Knicks didn't get those kind of numbers by allowing teams to score 50 points in a half.
Even with Camby able to stay out of foul trouble and play long minutes, the Knicks had no answer inside for Duncan and Robinson.
The Spurs went on a 9-0 run at the start of the third quarter that stunned the Knicks.
"We couldn't buy a shot," Camby said. "We seemed to be playing on our heels the rest of the second half."
Now the Knicks are one game away from elimination.
Latrell Sprewell, who led with New York with 26, tried to stay positive.
"We have an opportunity to finish at home with a win for our fans -- just to keep hope alive," he said.
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