Work in Sports
NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston and the New York Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers like it was 1999.
Forced to employ a smaller lineup due to the absence of injured center Patrick Ewing and further hampered by an injury to Marcus Camby, Sprewell and Houston combined for 60 points as New York took Game Three of the Eastern Conference finals, 98-95.
Down 2-0 in the series, the Knicks found out 30 minutes before game time that Ewing would sit out due to a sprained tendon in his right foot, an injury absorbed in Thursday's 88-84 loss in Game Two.
Camby went down with a sprained medial capsule in his right knee with 8:49 remaining in the first half and New York holding a 27-24 lead.
"I am proud of this team," New York coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
"If we play well, we could win no matter who or where we play. I do believe our team has exceptional pride."
Much as they did in ousting the Pacers in six games during last year's conference finals, Sprewell and Houston were more than up to the challenge, displaying the pride Van Gundy spoke about and carrying the resilient Knicks back into the series.
Sprewell took the blame for Thursday's loss after shooting a dreadful 3-of-14, including a miss on a potential tying shot in the waning moments. Today, the explosive swingman played his most complete game of the postseason and came on strong when New York needed him most.
The 6-5, 190-pounder scored 18 of his 32 points in the second half, including the first six of the fourth quarter for New York, which never trailed in the final period.
Sprewell connected on 13-of-23 shots and 4-of-6 over the final 12 minutes. He entered the contest a dismal 4-of-31 from the floor in postseason fourth quarters.
Houston made 11-of-21 shots for 28 points and he and Sprewell drove the Knicks home by combining for 17 fourth-quarter points.
The duo combined to average 37 points in last year's six-game ousting of Indiana, when the Knicks again lost Ewing after Game Two.
"I think (Houston) and I were really aggressive. I think that was the bottom line," said Sprewell, who is nursing a bruised right quadriceps. "We really didn't change that much. We ran the same plays, but we hit our shots and guys did what they had to do. It was good to do it in the fourth quarter."
"Down 0-2, we felt we really shouldn't be in this position, but we are," Houston said. "We dug ourselves a hole and we are in it. Only way we can get out of it is to win a game. You can't worry about who is out. Marcus went down and some guys are nicked up but you can't worry about that. You have to do whatever it takes to win the game."
Ewing remains listed as day-to-day and may be back for Game Four here on Monday. An MRI revealed that Camby did not suffer any severe structural damage to his knee, and he also is day-to-day.
Somewhat obscured by Sprewell and Houston, point guard Charlie Ward had 14 points, nine assists and three steals in 30 minutes and brought the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden to its feet for the loudest ovation of the night when he played big himself.
The 6-2, 190-pounder leapt to block Indiana center Rik Smits' shot with just under a minute left in the third quarter and New York in the midst of a decisive 8-2 run. After Sprewell hit a running jumper, Smits, who dominated the first half with 21 points, tried to avoid a shot-clock violation by hoisting up a desperation jumper from deep in the left corner.
Ward, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State, rose up and knocked the 7-4 Smits' shot into the seats and setting a fire under the Garden fans. Ward hit two free throws on the ensuing trip and New York opened a 71-62 advantage with 52 seconds left.
"That was great," New York forward Kurt Thomas said. "I've never seen him jump that high before. We hate to see that happen to Patrick and Marcus, but whatever five guys are out there did the job."
"It was kind of funny," Ward said. "If a guy didn't jump and he is 7-4, he becomes as small as you are. It looked crazy, I am sure it felt crazy, but the Lord was that angel that was telling me to fly high. Only way I could get there was to fly."
Larry Johnson became New York's top low-post option with Ewing and Camby out of the mix and the power forward responded with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. It was Johnson who won Game Three against Indiana here last year with his improbable and highly disputed four-point play that gave the Knicks a 2-1 series lead.
Jalen Rose was invisible for the better part of three quarters before exploding for 22 points in the fourth quarter for Indiana, which is looking for its first NBA Finals appearance after four defeats in the conference semifinals.
"We let Rose score every time," Van Gundy joked. "We like, tricked him. No, he was great. He is a great jump shooter and very hard for big players to adjust to how well and how deep he can shoot the ball."
Rose finished with 26 points and Smits had 25 for the Pacers, who held a 47-45 lead with 10:01 remaining in the third quarter before falling behind for good.
Chris Dudley, who started in place of Ewing, hit two from the line, a rarity for the usually incompetent free-throw shooter.
Johnson and Sprewell followed with consecutive baskets as New York took a 51-47 lead with 8:08 left.
Houston drained a 16-footer and Ward made a driving layup off a perfect feed from Houston before Reggie Miller's jumper cut the deficit to 67-62. Ward followed Sprewell's ensuing basket with the block of Smits, giving New York the momentum heading into the fourth quarter.
"It is still amazing to me how we continued to fight the odds and keep battling," Ward said. "Opening up the offense didn't have anything to do with (Ewing and Camby) going out. It was the energy that we brought today. We wanted to attack the hoop and we did a good job of getting to the hoop and making plays."
Miller, who has made a reputation of putting a dagger in Knicks' fans hearts during the postseason, was at it again in the third quarter. He scored scored 12 points and drew the ire of the crowd with a technical foul midway through the period.
But the sharpshooting guard was not a threat down the stretch, managing just one point and sitting out the final two minutes of regulation when he usually shines.
"I think that at that time they were up nine or 10 (points) and I thought coach probably didn't think we were going to get back into the ballgame," Miller said. "We are all disappointed. We'd like to win every ballgame as well. We just got to play better.
(The Knicks) play hard. I told you I always had a lot of respect for them."
Rose began his fourth-quarter assault with a nine-footer, but Sprewell answered with a 14-footer along with the Knicks' next two baskets as the two engaged in a scoring duel.
After Rose knocked down two free throws to cut the deficit to 73-68, Sprewell made a layup and 15-footer before Houston's layup extended the margin to 79-68 with 7:22 to play. Kurt Thomas' layup less than a minute later gave New York its largest lead, a 13-point cushion with 6:36 to play.
"Latrell Sprewell and Houston, anytime those two guys are making shots, they are as tough as they come," Rose said. "Obviously, you need to play better (defense) on them."
Sprewell appeared to seal the contest when he drained two free throws with 1:49 remaining to make it 92-81. But Rose hit a runner, a 25-footer and two driving layups during a 14-6 spurt to close the contest.
"I was being aggressive in the fourth quarter," Rose said. "I wasn't turning down anything and I wasn't going to give up the game."
Austin Croshere, who scored a game-high 22 points in the series opener, capped the flourish on a 3-pointer -- his only points of the game -- with just 4.7 seconds remaining, but the Knicks were able to inbound and run out the clock, leaving Indiana to try again on Monday.
"It was a big opportunity, but we still have Monday," Rose said.
"We are still in control of this series. We are the team with two wins."
Miller scored 19 points and Dale Davis added 10 and 16 rebounds for Indiana, which shot 51 percent (36-of-70) and held a slim 33-28 advantage on the glass. The Pacers yielded 18 points off turnovers while collecting just six off New York giveaways.
"They have been in this position before, being shorthanded," Miller said. "Guys step up. That is what happened today."
The Knicks shot 53 percent (39-of-74) and outscored the Pacers, 18-16, at the line.