Work in Sports
NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Vince Carter had a horrific shooting day in his playoff debut, yet the New York Knicks barely held off the Toronto Raptors thanks to another clutch postseason 3-pointer by Larry Johnson.
After the Knicks squandered a 19-point lead, Johnson came to the rescue with a tie-breaking, 25-foot jumper with 42.8 seconds left in a 92-88 victory over the Raptors in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
Johnson shot just 33 percent from behind the arc this season but has a penchant for hitting clutch playoff 3-pointers. His most famous turned into a four-point play and gave the Knicks a stunning 92-91 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game Three of last year's Eastern Conference finals.
Johnson also hit a pair of game-breaking 3-pointers in the final minutes of New York's Game Five win at Indiana.
"When the pressure was on, Larry made a big three and Chris (Childs) made some free throws," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We knew that it was going to be a tough series and expected the game to be close."
Today, Johnson's 3-pointer bailed out the Knicks, who contained Carter most of the day. Prematurely anointed as the next Michael Jordan, Carter torched New York during the regular season, averaging 33 points on 60 percent shooting in four games, including three wins.
In his first career playoff game, however, Carter missed his first 12 shots from the field through three quarters and finished a nightmarish 3-of-20.
"My shot wasn't on tonight, I'm just being honest," Carter said. "Sometimes it happens. I think I was overexcited, I just have to relax. I just want to make a better showing, that's all."
However, Carter scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and tied it with a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:22 remaining.
The Knicks reclaimed the lead for good, 88-85, when Johnson drilled a shot from the right elbow of the free throw line behind the 3-point arc. The play was designed for Patrick Ewing, who backed in on former teammate Charles Oakley in the lane. As Toronto's Antonio Davis left his man for the double-team, Ewing passed outside to Latrell Sprewell, who quickly swung the ball to a wide-open Johnson.
After sinking the 3-pointer, Johnson flashed his trademark "L" sign with his right arm, made famous during New York's run to the NBA Finals last season.
On Toronto's next possession, Carter beat Sprewell on a drive to the basket and was intentionally fouled hard to the floor from behind. A flagrant foul was called on Sprewell, but Carter hit just 1-of-2 free throws with 39.9 seconds remaining, pulling Toronto within 88-86.
The Raptors had numerous chances to tie it again, but Carter missed on a Jordanesque scoop shot in the lane after driving past Sprewell and Ewing. However, the ball went out of bounds off New York.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Tracy McGrady, who led Toronto with 25 points, missed a jumper from the left corner. Doug Christie grabbed the rebound for the Raptors but missed a short shot from the right sideline and Childs slid to the floor for the rebound before calling timeout.
Childs converted three free throws in the final 12.5 seconds to seal the win.
"Our defense was very good, but I think Vince Carter missed some shots that he could normally make," Van Gundy said. "Great players have tough nights, too."
Sprewell hounded Carter most of the day, challenging his outside shot with the knowledge that one of New York's forwards would be prepared to switch on a drive into the lane. Carter settled for the outside shot throughout, despite having Sprewell in his face much of the time, and misfired most of the day.
"Spree did a good job of being intense and that was the scheme more than anything," Knicks guard Allan Houston said.
Sprewell and Houston, the driving forces in New York's run to the Finals last season, each scored 21 points. Johnson finished with 15 and Ewing had 15 points and nine rebounds.
The Raptors shot just 37 percent (30-of-81) but outrebounded the Knicks, 47-34. Kevin Willis had 13 points and 11 boards off the bench for Toronto.
Game Two is Wednesday in New York.
In only his second season in the NBA, Carter's array of explosive moves to the basket and high-flying dunks put the Raptors into NBC's regular-season rotation. He won the Slam Dunk competition during All-Star weekend and averaged 25.7 points, fourth in the league. The network is selling him as the next Jordan and stretched out this series over a possible 13 days to make sure Carter would perform on back-to-back Sundays.
But this afternoon, Carter could not get near the basket for any rim-rattling dunks. He missed all eight of his field goal attempts in the first half, managing only a pair of free throws with 7:20 left in the second quarter.
Carter continued to struggle in the third quarter, missing all four of his shots and converting four throws. His first basket came on his 13th attempt with 10:42 left in the game. Carter hit another jumper from the left side 35 seconds later to pull the Raptors within 71-68 and converted the tying 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining before missing his last three shots.
Playing in their first-ever postseason game, the Raptors looked like a team with the playoff jitters. They missed 14 of their first 16 shots while the Knicks raced to a 27-8 lead. Houston led New York with 11 points.
"We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start and to establish some kind of intensity that we could build on," Houston said. "But we have to do a better job of staying focused for 48 minutes."
Toronto, which hit just 3-of-20 shots in the first quarter, closed within 27-16 on an 8-0 run spearheaded by Willis, who hit a jump hook, a tip-in and a free throw.
The Knicks established a 38-23 lead on a drive by Sprewell with 5:58 left in the half. Houston and Sprewell each scored 14 in the half as the Knicks held a 46-37 advantage.
The Raptors opened the second half with a 7-2 run, pulling within 48-44 on a 3-pointer by Christie with 10:18 left in the third quarter. However, a basket by Johnson and a 3-pointer by Houston following a miss by Carter increased New York's advantage to 59-50 with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by McGrady and Muggsy Bogues pulled the Raptors within 65-62, but the Knicks closed the quarter with a 6-0 run as Houston made a pair of free throws and a jumper.
"For my first playoff game, I feel good about myself," McGrady said. "The crowd was as loud as I ever heard it, but that is playoff basketball, I guess."
New York's Marcus Camby, acquired from the Raptors for Oakley in June 1998, made headlines this week when he called Toronto coach Butch Carter "a liar" and implied he had lost the respect of his players. Carter filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Camby, who had four points and five rebounds in 24 minutes.
Oakley finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.