Hot Sprewell goes cold at end
Posted: Saturday June 26, 1999 01:42 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- The one player who never seemed to be a perfect fit for the New York Knicks in their up-and-down season was the one player they couldn't have been without Friday night.
Latrell Sprewell scored 35 points with an unbelievable string of shots but then missed two crucial ones at the end of the 78-77 loss to San Antonio that ended the unlikely postseason run of a team that at first couldn't seem to win and then couldn't seem to lose.
Sprewell, signed by the Knicks after being reinstated by the NBA following his 68-game suspension for choking his coach in Golden State, spent the 50-game regular season as a sixth man, an uncomfortable position for the ex-All Star.
He groused about the situation and paid a $25,000 fine when management got angry over some negative remarks by his agent. That occurred the same day as Ernie Grunfeld was stripped of his job as president and general manager. The Knicks were in disarray, drifting at 21-21 and it seemed like they would miss the playoffs.
And then, all at once, things fell into place. New York edged into the playoffs as the eighth-seeded team in the East and went on a run. The Knicks beat No. 1-seeded Miami in five games, swept Atlanta in four and then took out Indiana in six to reach the NBA Finals.
In the process, Sprewell moved from the bench to the starting lineup and into one of the team's main scoring threats along with Allan Houston.
On Friday night, against San Antonio, Sprewell went on a second-half tear, scoring 14 straight points, trying to singlehandedly keep the Knicks alive in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Then, with the game hanging in the balance, the Knicks went to their hot shooter twice and each time Sprewell missed as San Antonio hung on for the victory that clinched the Spurs' first NBA championship.
The anti-hero had come full circle.
After Avery Johnson's 18-footer gave the Spurs a one-point lead with 47 seconds left, Sprewell tried to respond but missed a 15-footer. The Knicks had one more chance with 2.1 seconds on the clock, but again Sprewell missed.
Coach Jeff Van Gundy set up the final play with Charlie Ward passing to Sprewell.
"It was a great pass by Charlie, good catch by Latrell, just unfortunately a little bit under the rim or backboard and we couldn't go straight up with it," he said.
"We were trying to get a layup from the out-of-bounds," Sprewell said of the final shot. "Charlie threw an excellent pass. I was so far under the basket. I just tried to get the shot off but it was far too short.
"It was disappointing once you know it's finally over and you know the shot didn't go down."
Sprewell finished with 35 points in a gallant one-man show that simply fell a little short at the end.
"It's all for nothing at this point," he said. "I shot the ball really well. I'd rather have two points and have the victory."
It was ironic that Sprewell, who did not start for New York until the playoffs, turned out to be the player the Knicks were depending on to keep their season going.
And for a long time, he seemed perfectly capable of doing it all by himself.
He was hitting shots from all over the floor, driving dunks, long-range jumpers, even a 3-pointer that gave New York the lead down the stretch.
When the Spurs caught the Knicks at 68, Sprewell turned passer, setting up Marcus Camby for a clutch three-point play. Then Camby followed with another basket for five straight points -- the only ones that Sprewell didn't score for New York in the final 12 minutes.
"Latrell made big big shots, got to the free throw line and played outstanding," Van Gundy said.
So it stood to reason that when New York needed one more basket in the final minute, Sprewell was the shooter they went to. Both times, he came close. Both times, the shots missed.
Sprewell finished 13-of-27 from the field and 8-for-10 from the foul line. He led New York with 10 rebounds, had a couple of steals and a couple of assists.
And at the worst time, he also had a couple of misses.
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