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1999 NBA Playoffs

Little General

Avery Johnson spurs San Antonio's run for a title

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Posted: Thursday June 24, 1999 09:28 PM

Half full, half empty | Storylines | The Bandwagon

By John Donovan, CNN/SI

English Lesson
Alex English, an eight-time All-Star with the Denver Nuggets, breaks down what happened in Wednesday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks gave the San Antonio Spurs their best shot in Game 4. But the Spurs took it, and now they're a game away from the NBA title. Here's a look back at the game that put the Spurs up 3-1:

What the Knicks did right: They had a good, balanced scoring attack, with four players in double figures. They ran Jeff Van Gundy's gameplan, and it got them 89 points. Charlie Ward got going early -- he had a great first half.

What the Knicks did wrong: They didn't rebound well at all. The Spurs had 15 more. They didn't shoot the ball that well (41.3 percent), and they missed a lot of key shots down the stretch. And they still can't find an answer to Tim Duncan or David Robinson -- probably 'cause they don't have one.

What the Spurs did right: They were very well composed. They made the adjustments that needed to be made. Tim Duncan was not as bothered by the double teams as he was in earlier games. Sean Elliott and Mario Elie stayed out of foul trouble and played some good defense on Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston. They came out early, got out on top and didn't give the Knicks the lead except briefly.

What the Spurs did wrong: They had more turnovers than they'd like, I'm sure. The Knicks got 21 points off 17 Spurs turnovers. Dumb passes, mainly from Duncan and Jaren Jackson. Other than that, though, you can't pick on a team that scored 96 points, shot fairly well and held off a furious rally.

Alex English is the NBA analyst for CNN/SI, the 24-hour sports news network from CNN and Sports Illustrated. Check back on Friday for a preview of Game 5.

This is a special NBA Finals edition of "The Week at a Glance." Check back every day until the Finals are decided for a new glance.

NEW YORK -- It has been a long, rough ride for Avery Johnson, the little point guard that his San Antonio Spurs teammates call "Little General."

But the ride is almost over now. Johnson and his Spurs -- and, maybe more than anyone else other than center David Robinson, these are Johnson's Spurs -- are one game away from an NBA title, something many thought Johnson would never get.

"Avery was not a great player when he came into the league," said Spurs guard Steve Kerr. "He just worked and worked and worked. And this is where he is. To me, this is what it's all about. This is his time."

Johnson is not a lightning quick point guard who can blow by any defender. He is not a big scorer, and he's not a great passer. But what he does, he does well.

And that is to get everybody involved in the San Antonio offense, especially his two 7-footers, Robinson and Duncan.

And nobody on the team is more respected, more listened to, than the 5-foot-11 veteran.

"He's not fancy, he doesn't have any shake and bake moves ...," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "But he has an amazing drive that affects the whole group."

Johnson's knowledge of the game and his drive were never more evident than Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. After a horrific Game 3 -- when he had six turnovers and only four assists -- Johnson came out determined in Game 4.

It was evident even in the morning shootaround, when the often talkative Johnson clammed up -- even around his own teammates.

"He was his ornery self. I like that," Robinson said. "He wasn't talking to anybody. He had his little frown on. He was determined to get our offense flowing."

It worked. "AJ" came out with six points in the first quarter, which opened up the lane for Robinson and Duncan. Johnson finished with 14 points, had 10 assists and only three turnovers in the Spurs' 96-89 win. The victory put the Spurs up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Winning a title would be especially gratifying for Johnson, who was undrafted out of college, has played with five different teams in his 11-year NBA career and whom has been criticized roundly throughout his time in the league. Damon Stoudamire, now the point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, said at one time that a team could never win a championship with Johnson at the point.

He's about to prove Stoudamire -- and all of his other critics -- wrong.


Half full, half empty
A 3-1 lead
The good : If you're a Spurs' fan -- a chance for a title. If you're for the Knicks -- it's the first step to making history.
The bad: Only way the Knicks make history is winning three straight -- something never been done before for a team down 3-1.
The end?
The good : If the Spurs win Game 5, it gives them their first NBA title and completes the most difficult year in the history of the league.
The bad : If the Spurs win it, the '99 Finals won't go down as one of the best ever, by any stretch.
Storylines We'll Be Following
Did the Spurs take the Knicks' best punch Wednesday? If they did, will the Knicks pull el foldo and call it a successful season? Well, that's what everybody thought the Utah Jazz would do last season, and they forced the Chicago Bulls back to Salt Lake City, where the Bulls eventually prevailed in Game 6. You better believe both teams remember that.
Return to Uglyball?
Someone almost broke 100 points! The Knicks allowed the Spurs to shoot almost 47 percent in Game 4. The Spurs finally got a few rebounds, scored 96 points and now lead the series three games to one. You know the Knicks won't sit still for that kind of offensive output from the Spurs again. You want physical? You've got it.
The Admiral
After all these years, after all the criticism of being too soft and all that, David Robinson is on the verge of his first NBA title. He's given up scoring and the No. 1 place on his team -- and been rewarded, finally, for his patience.

The Bandwagon
Spurs' reboundersHey, guys. Where you been?
Mario Elie Talk about rebounding
Sprewell, Houston Chucked an 0-for in last 4 minutes of Game 4
Game 4Running, rebounding, scoring ... Is this really the NBA?
Bank's openTim Duncan has a knack for putting it off the glass

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