Work in Sports
MIAMI (Ticker) -- There was no question who the best center in the Eastern Conference was today.
Alonzo Mourning beat Patrick Ewing for a layup with 41 seconds left and hit a jumper over him with 5.6 seconds remaining to lift the Miami Heat to an 87-83 victory over the New York Knicks in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
This week, Ewing fired the first salvo for Heat-Knicks IV when he proclaimed himself the best center in the East. Mourning refrained from responding to his Georgetown pal's comment but did his talking on the court today.
The All-Defensive Team member scored Miami's final eight points, including four clutch free throws before his last two baskets, and finished with 26 points.
"I'm not trying to have success against Patrick. It's a team thing," Mourning said. "There's more to it than just our matchup."
His two free throws with 3:24 left tied the game at 81-81. After a turnover by New York's Allan Houston, the Heat isolated Mourning, who was bumped by Ewing as he attempted a baseline drive. He again converted both from the line to give Miami an 83-81 advantage with 2:49 remaining, the ninth lead change of the quarter.
After Chris Childs and Larry Johnson missed 3-pointers for New York, Tim Hardaway missed a pair for Miami. New York's Latrell Sprewell was fouled on a rebound and hit both free throws with 55 seconds left to tie the game.
The Heat took the lead for good when Mourning outmuscled Ewing for inside position, took a bullet pass from Dan Majerle and scored an easy layup. The Knicks attempted to get the ball to Ewing in the lane, but the pass was deflected away and retrieved by Hardaway.
"We've got to play a little better down the stretch," Ewing said. "These teams are so similar that the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins."
New York coach Jeff Van Gundy elected not to foul and the Heat milked the clock until Mourning hit an open 12-foot jumper from the left side with four seconds left on the shot clock and 5.6 seconds remaining.
"It's just what I believe," Van Gundy said. "That's my decision. Obviously it didn't work."
Van Gundy's strategy was almost identical to the end of Game Two of the 1997 conference semifinals. With the Knicks trailing by one and just a three-second differential between the shot clock and game clock, he opted not to foul and Jamal Mashburn sank a clinching 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds to go.
After Mourning's second basket, Majerle stripped Houston to seal the win.
"In order for us to win this series in advance, we're going to have to take care of the ball down the stretch," Houston said.
Game Two is Tuesday at Miami. In each of the last three years, these taems have gone to the decisive game of the series.
"We all know how important this game was to start off on the right foot, but this series is not over and we still have a long way to go," Mourning said.
Ewing, who suffered back spasms after practice on Friday and used a heating pad today, scored 17 points on just 6-of-16 shooting.
"It was tough but I played through it," Ewing said. "It's going to take a lot more than back pain to keep me out."
Houston, who hit the game-winning runner in the lane in the Game Five win at Miami last year, led the Knicks with 21 points but committed five turnovers.
Miami was especially hurt by Houston and Sprewell in last year's series and Mashburn took the brunt of the criticism. Today, the 6-8 forward effectively drove to the basket and outplayed Sprewell, scoring 21 points and converting all nine free throws.
In three previous playoff series against the Knicks, Mashburn averaged 8.1 points.
"I thought he (Mashburn) was rock solid," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "I don't want to force any issue, but we needed to manufacture shots for him."
Covered by Mashburn most of the game, Sprewell finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
While Mourning and Mashburn handled the scoring burden, P.J.
Brown grabbed a playoff career-high 16 rebounds for the Heat.
Hardaway played 30 minutes in his first game since April 16 and was noticeably bothered by his foot and ankle injuries. He had six points and seven assists but was just 2-of-8 from the field, missing 5-of-6 3-pointers.
"I thought Tim played extremely well out there, but he was hurting a little bit at the end," Riley said. "You need to put the ball in someone's hands whose going to deliver and he was able to do that."
New York's Marcus Camby provided a lift off the bench with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
This was the 18th playoff meeting between the teams over the last four seasons. Each team has won nine times.
The Knicks hit six of their first seven shots and took a 12-6 lead with Johnson scoring six of his eight points. However, the Knicks missed their next 12 shots and the Heat scored 11 in a row as part of a 17-2 run. Mourning had eight points in the spurt -- including two dunks -- and Mashburn capped it with a short banker, giving Miami a 23-14 lead with 1:32 left.
Two straight baskets by Sprewell helped the Knicks pull within 25-19 after one quarter.
A 10-2 second-quarter run gave New York its first lead of the half. After missing his first five shots, Ewing hit two jumpers in the lane and capped the spurt with a pair of free throws with 1:39 left, giving the Knicks a 41-39 edge.
Otis Thorpe hit back-to-back inside baskets to give the lead back to Miami and Houston scored off a lob to tie the game at 43-43.
The Heat led 46-45 at halftime and scored the first seven points of the second half on two layups by Mourning and a three-point play by Majerle, opening a 53-45 lead. The Knicks responded with a 9-2 run as Charlie Ward converted a pair of layups and Ewing completed a three-point play.