3 down, 1 to go
Spurs hold off Knicks, take commanding 3-1 series lead
Posted: Monday June 28, 1999 12:12 AM
If the Knicks could pull off a win in Game 4, the series would be tied at 2-2 and all bets are off.
If the Spurs could bounce back from their defeat in Game 3, they would seize control of the series and be one win away from their first title.
Showing themselves to be true championship material, San Antonio made all the big plays in the final few minutes, closing with a 10-5 run to defeat New York 96-89 Wednesday night and take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
No team has ever recovered from such a deficit in the finals.
"We've been a very good team down the stretch throughout the season, we developed that through experience," Tim Duncan said. "We make plays down the stretch."
All five starters, not just Duncan and David Robinson, came up big in what was a true team effort, not just a bunch of guys riding the coattails of the two 7-footers.
Duncan scored 28, Mario Elie had 18, and David Robinson, Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott scored 14 apiece as all of San Antonio's starters reached double figures.
"When we came in for Game 3, we were giddy and overconfident and the Knicks humbled us," Elie said. "We got some key defensive stops down the stretch, which we didn't get in Game 3, and we have to carry it over to Game 5."
Said Duncan: "We didn't want to give them any opportunity for life. We came in concentrated and focused. It's a one-game thing, and we want to knock them out."
San Antonio held the Knicks to 17 points in the third quarter and outrebounded them for the first time in the series, 49-34. Duncan had 18 of those rebounds and Robinson 17, and the Twin Towers deterred the Knicks all night with their size. Robinson had four blocks and Duncan three.
"We've got a luxury, two big 7-footers to help us out when we get beat," Elie said. "Defense wins in this league, always."
San Antonio led for most of the game, and held a 13-point advantage in the third quarter. But, unlike in Games 1 and 2, the Knicks made a final run in the fourth quarter.
A foul shot by Larry Johnson cut the Spurs' lead to 86-84 with 3:40 left, but New York wouldn't score again until the final minute.
Elliott and Robinson each hit a pair of free throws to increase the lead to six, and all the Knicks got were missed jumpers and poor ball handling.
The crowd at Madison Square Garden sat in stunned silence as nothing seemed to work, and they were heading en masse to the exits by the time the clock ticked inside the final minute.
"I was kind of surprised by that," Steve Kerr said, "especially with what they've been doing this season. It was only a seven-point game."
Latrell Sprewell finished with 26 points and Allan Houston and Marcus Camby had 20 apiece for the Knicks, who were down another player with Chris Childs' sprained knee limiting him to seven minutes.
Besides those three starters, nobody else contributed much for New York. Johnson and Kurt Thomas had five points each and Charlie Ward added 11, only one after the first quarter.
San Antonio will be going for its first NBA championship when the series resumes Friday night at the Garden for Game 5.
Houston wasn't ready to concede.
"We win a game here, a game on the road, and then it's Game 7 -- the ultimate game. That's the way we're looking at it," he said. "Our backs couldn't be any further against the wall. We're not hanging our heads. We're looking forward to the challenge."
San Antonio took the lead for good with 6:53 left in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Elliott and held its largest lead, 59-46, after starting the second half with a 9-0 run that included six points from Duncan.
The Knicks pulled within four on a pair of free throws by Sprewell with 6:16 left, and Houston scored on a short jumper over Avery Johnson with 5:39 left to cut the deficit to two, 81-79.
Sprewell had a big play by poking the ball away from behind on a 2-on-1 break, causing a turnover, and Ward made one of two at the line to make it a one-point game.
"This place probably would have lost the roof if they took the lead," Elliott said. "It's a good thing they didn't."
But Robinson hit a jump hook, Houston missed a 12-footer from the corner and Duncan converted a jump hook to make it a five-point game with 4:39 left.
Ward carelessly threw the ball away on New York's next possession, and Elie hit one of two at the line to cap a 5-0 run and make it 86-80.
A three-point play by Camby and a foul shot by Johnson made it 86-84 with 3:40 left, but that was as close as the Knicks got.
"Tim makes a sweet move, Dave does the same thing and we're up five, and we played great defense after that down the stretch," Elie said. "We've got a chance to do something special for the city of San Antonio, first time, and hopefully we can finish it off."
In the first quarter, Ward uncharacteristically looked to score, perhaps after watching Johnson drive around him seemingly at will on San Antonio's first possessions. Ward scored 10 points in a span of 4 1/2 minutes, including two 3-pointers and a steal and layup that gave the Knicks their first lead, 26-25 with 1:32 left.
Thomas hit a jumper with a second left in the quarter to give New York a 29-27 lead, and neither team led by more than four points in a second quarter, which ended with the Spurs ahead 50-46.
Duncan had 14 and Johnson 10 for San Antonio, while Sprewell, Camby, Houston and Ward had 10 apiece for New York at the half.
Notes: Ward had his highest-scoring night since Game 4 against Miami in the first round. ... Heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield sat courtside, returning to the scene of his controversial draw against Lennox Lewis. ... Larry Johnson fouled out with 1:14 left after shooting 2-for-8.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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