Work in Sports
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Austin Croshere did not play a single minute in last year's Eastern Conference finals. He certainly made up for lost time.
Croshere scored a playoff career-high 22 points off the bench to lead a balanced attack as the Indiana Pacers defeated the New York Knicks, 102-88, in the series opener.
Last year, Croshere was buried on the bench behind Antonio Davis and Sam Perkins as the Pacers lost in six games to the Knicks. Davis was traded and Croshere emerged in training camp, taking minutes from the aging Perkins.
The third-year forward from Providence made 7-of-10 floor shots, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, when Indiana pulled away from feisty New York.
"This was my first year of playing this many minutes and I like it," Croshere said. "I have had to adjust and take advantage of the time and I think my teammates have developed a trust in me."
"Austin played an all-around great game," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "His No. 1 job is to keep (Marcus) Camby off the boards, which is a tough assignment for anyone. Austin played great defense, rebounded well and gave a good all-around effort."
Croshere had plenty of help. The Pacers already had a 10-point advantage when he entered late in the first quarter and led by as many as 19 points. The Knicks pulled within two in the third quarter but seemed to show the effects of a physical, draining seven-game conference semifinal series against Miami.
"It was a tough series with them but I can't use that as an excuse," Knicks center Patrick Ewing said.
"We were ill-prepared for their intensity at the start of the game," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "The game was very, very easy for the Pacers tonight. ... They were ready and we wasted a quarter and got beat."
Reggie Miller scored 19 points and Jalen Rose added 17, all in the second half. Rik Smits scored 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter for Indiana, which appeared rested and ready, shooting 48 percent (40-of-83) and holding a 43-35 advantage on the boards.
Game Two is Thursday at Indiana. In their NBA history, the Pacers are 10-0 in playoff series when winning Game One and 0-11 when losing the opener.
Latrell Sprewell scored 22 points and Ewing added 21 for the Knicks, who allowed 100 points for the first time in 32 postseason games since May 10, 1998, when they surrendered 118 to the Pacers.
A free throw by Sprewell opened the fourth quarter and pulled the Knicks within 78-72. Rose answered with a 3-pointer and after a basket by Kurt Thomas, the Pacers ran off nine straight points. Miller and Dale Davis scored, Croshere hit a 3-pointer and Rose scored inside for a 90-74 lead with 5:42 remaining.
A drive by Charlie Ward and a 3-pointer by Allan Houston cut the deficit to 11 points before Croshere hit another 3-pointer. Ewing had a free throw and basket but Croshere sank two from the line for a 95-82 advantage with 2:06 left.
"Austin is going to have to do something for us," Miller said. "He extends their defense and draws the bigger guys away from the hoop to open things up."
Dale Davis had 14 points and 16 rebounds and Mark Jackson added 11 and 13 assists for the Pacers, who excelled from the lines. They made 12-of-12 free throws and 10-of-15 from the arc.
"We can talk about the assists, we can talk about the guys that scored, that knocked down shots, we can talk about the guys that made plays," Jackson said. "This game was won by Dale Davis. The tone he set on the glass, being pretty much our lone enforcer, he just did a phenomenal job and he won the ballgame for us."
Houston scored 18 points despite a sprained left ankle and Ward added 14 for the Knicks, who shot 44 percent (35-of-80). They made 12-of-17 free throws and 6-of-11 3-pointers.
"I wasn't limited that much," Houston said. "I could feel it (hurt) but it's not near as sore as it was last game. I'm not using it for an excuse anymore."
The Pacers came out flying. They shot 52 percent (15-of-29) and put back just about everything they missed, collecting 13 points off offensive rebounds. Smits got off to a quick start with 10 points, and a circus reverse layup by Austin Croshere off an airball by Mark Jackson at the buzzer gave Indiana a 35-17 lead.
"Terrible defense on our part," Sprewell said. "They pretty much got whatever they wanted in the first quarter and we're so much better than that defensively. To have a quarter like that in the Eastern Conference finals is something we can't have."
A 3-pointer by Miller and a layup by Croshere built the lead to 19 points and the Pacers still held a 46-28 lead after two free throws by Smits with 6:32 left in the second quarter.
But Smits sat down with his third foul less than three minutes later and the Knicks took advantage. Working against the smaller Davis, Ewing scored seven straight points for New York, which closed the half with a 17-6 run and cut the deficit to 52-48.
The Knicks pulled within two points twice in the third quarter but failed to take advantage of Smits, who was left on the court after picking up his fourth foul in the first minute. Rose finally came alive, scoring eight points after an 0-of-5 first half. Indiana led by as many as nine points and took a 78-71 cushion into the final period.
"Jalen did a good job of staying focused and was terrific in the second half," Bird said.