Work in Sports
MIAMI (Ticker) -- Tenacious defense, flagrant fouls, flying bottles and a split of the first two games could only mean the New York Knicks are fighting off the Miami Heat again.
In one of the uglier playoff games in recent memory, the Knicks battled their way to an 82-76 victory over the Heat that evened their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
"There's not much you can say about that game," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "But we did enough to win."
For the fourth time in as many years, the team with the first two home games could only manage a split. The Knicks and Heat have gone to a deciding game in their three previous series.
Although considered the NBA's best rivalry, Knicks-Heat often produces some of the worst games, and this was no exception. The teams combined to shoot just 34 percent, miss 25 free throws and commit 60 fouls over an excruciating 2:41.
The Knicks led for the final 40 minutes as quick starts by the unlikely duo of Charlie Ward and Kurt Thomas gave them an early 10-point advantage. New York opened an 18-point cushion midway through the fourth quarter and fought off the Heat and their fans, who threw a couple of plastic water bottles at the Knicks' bench.
"I'm not a superstar and I don't get a lot of press but you need guys that pull a team together and I've tried to do that since I've been here," Ward said.
"It was ugly out there," said Thomas, originally drafted by the Heat. "We knew coming in there would be two teams playing hard and we'd have to keep our heads down. I believe all the games are going to be close games."
Game Three is Friday at New York, where Miami has won at least once in each of the previous series. Van Gundy was not entirely satisfied with a split on the road.
"I don't think coaches look at it that way," he said. "I think coaches prepare hard for the first game. The next game is always the most important."
Ward scored seven of his 13 points early in the first quarter. Thomas scored all six of his late in the period as the Knicks opened a 23-13 lead.
Although the Knicks shot just 35 percent (24-of-68) from the field, they had six players in double figures. Patrick Ewing also scored 13 points, Allan Houston and Larry Johnson added 12 apiece, Latrell Sprewell had 11 and Marcus Camby 10.
The Heat battled back several times but never reclaimed the lead as they were undone by awful shooting from everywhere. Miami shot just 34 percent (25-of-74) and 58 percent (19-of-33) from the line.
"It was somewhat of a surreal game for me to watch," Riley said.
"We did everything we had to do from a defensive standpoint and a rebounding standpoint. It was a horrendous offensive performance in a very sifgnificant game."
Heat All-Star center Alonzo Mourning had 17 points, 17 rebounds and 13 missed shots. Jamal Mashburn scored 25 points but also missed 13 shots. Miami had only 54 points over the first 41 minutes before making a late run.
"If we erase just a quarter of the mistakes we made out there tonight, we would have won," Mourning said. "Mark my words, we will play better the next game."
After Otis Thorpe elbowed Camby in the eye, Chris Childs made a 3-pointer to give the Knicks a 68-54 lead with 8:25 remaining and bring a bottle out of the stands. Sprewell's breakaway dunk made it 76-60 with 4:57 left and prompted another bottle toss.
The Heat finally got hot, scoring nine straight points to cut the deficit to 76-69 with 2:20 left. But Anthony Carter missed a drive, the 6-3 Ward grabbed a rebound in traffic and Ewing had a follow shot to seal it at 78-69 with 1:34 to play.
"Charlie did a really good job the whole game, particularly his big rebound when they were making their run at us," Van Gundy said. "He is without a doubt our best hustle player. I think he showed that again tonight."
"We were fortunate to have a big enough lead," admitted Thomas.
Tim Hardaway scored 13 points for the Heat, who held a 50-43 rebounding edge but surrendered 15 second-chance points.
"When Sprewell and Houston are 2-of-18 at the half and 5-of-27 for the game and the fourth quarter you are down 18 points, then something is wrong offensively," Riley said.
Looking for redemption from Game One, Ewing instead took a seat with his second foul with 4:28 remaining in the first quarter.
Just 1:42 later, Mourning sat down with his second foul and the Knicks fared much better without their star center.
As part of an 11-1 run, Thomas hit two free throws and a jumper before the rough stuff arrived for the first time in the series.
Open underneath for a layup, Thomas was taken down by the neck by Thorpe, who drew a flagrant foul. Thomas made 1-of-2 from the line and added a jumper with 1:03 left.
Miami made just 2-of-8 free throws and trailed 23-15 after one quarter. The second period became more physical as both teams were in the penalty with just under nine minutes to go. During a 7-0 run by the Heat, former Nets teammates P.J. Brown and Childs tussled, with Brown throwing an elbow and Childs a kick.
New York led 38-34 after an awful first half that featured 34 fouls and 32 percent shooting. Sprewell and Houston each shot 1-of-9 from the field. Miami made just 7-of-20 free throws.
"It killed us. It killed us," Hardaway said. "We stepped up there and missed them. When the first person steps up there and misses them, it becomes contagious. It's always been like that with us."
After the Knicks wasted four chances to rebuild the lead to 10 points midway through the third quarter, Mashburn and Hardaway hit 3-pointers and Mashburn made a layup to cut the deficit to 49-48 with 3:32 left. But a 3-pointer by Ward and two free throws by Houston capped an 8-0 spurt that closed the period and gave New York a 59-50 lead.
"I knew going in I had to pick up the tempo, pushing the ball up and trying to get our guys to reach the basket," Ward said. "In the process, I ended up getting shots myself."
"(Ward's) been overshadowed all year but in a game where we don't shoot the ball well, he really shows up," Houston said.