Work in Sports
NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Don't try to tell the Indiana Pacers that the New York Knicks aren't a better team without Patrick Ewing.
For the second straight game, the Knicks thrived without their injured star center, turning to a new group of heroes in a 91-89 victory over the Pacers that evened the Eastern Conference finals at two games each.
In Game Three, it was the tandem of Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston combining for 60 points to lead New York to a 98-98 win. Tonight it was Larry Johnson, Kurt Thomas and Charlie Ward combining for 57 points as the Knicks again showed the grit that the Pacers are lacking.
Over the last two postseasons, the Knicks are an astounding 5-1 against the Pacers without Ewing, who missed his second straight game with a sprained right foot but hopes to return for Game Five on Wednesday in Indiana. That would be just fine with Pacers center Rik Smits.
"It seems that way, doesn't it?" Smits said. "You look at the percentages with him and without him. I hope he comes back."
"I always like how that (statistic) gets manipulated," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who was quick to point out that five of those games were at home. "We play well when we share the ball and we play inside-out. We have four guys we basically go into in the post. We play off them. So when he is out, we still have three post-up guys that we can go to."
Thomas, who picks up extra minutes whenever Ewing goes down, believes the Knicks look to run more without their slower big man, who rarely throws outlet passes and often makes the offense wait for him to get into the low post.
"(Ewing) doesn't have the youth that he had a couple of years ago, so it is like 4-on-5 for a moment," he said. "But when we have other guys that come into the game, we really try to push the ball up the floor."
Before Ewing returns, the Pacers have to figure out how to stop his teammates, specifically Johnson. He matched his Game Two total of 25 points and made all five of his 3-pointers, including one in response to Reggie Miller's 3-pointer that pulled Indiana within 77-76 with 6:49 remaining.
"They had fought their way back in it," Johnson said. "That came at a crucial time for us and took a little bit away from them."
"I think that was probably the biggest basket of the game right there," Miller said. "It was a scrambled play, it got kicked out. He hit some big shots tonight to really carry that team."
Thomas followed with a jumper and Johnson hit another 3-pointer that built the lead to 85-76 with 4:28 to go.
"My guys did a hell of a job of penetrating and kicking the ball out," Johnson said. "As long as they keep leaving me open, I'll shoot it."
Ward hit a 3-pointer to make it 88-80 with 2:22 left before the Pacers made a final push. Two free throws and a 3-pointer by Travis Best cut the deficit to 90-87 with 6.4 seconds to play and Indiana fouled Latrell Sprewell, who scored 12 points despite a broken bone in his left foot.
Sprewell missed the first free throw. On the second attempt, Pacers forward Jalen Rose stepped quickly into the lane as Sprewell was shooting and was whistled for a lane violation as the shot missed. Given a second chance, Sprewell made the clinching free throw.
"Tough call, in my opinion," said Rose, who led Indiana's comeback from a 17-point halftime deficit. "I was trying to step in there to box him out. He missed the first. There was a chance he would miss the second."
"He came in early," Ward said. "I don't know how early, but he came in early and I think that is what the referee saw."
Thomas scored a playoff-high 16 points, many of them jumpers over the 7-4 Smits. He added five rebounds and two blocks in his best game of the postseason.
"I don't care about what other players think," Thomas said. "I just go out there and play my game. I know that I can play on this level. I know that I can score. I know that I can play defense. I just want to go out there and contribute."
Ward continued his outstanding playoff run with 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals. He was 4-of-6 from behind the arc as New York shot a remarkable 71 percent (10-of-14) from 3-point range.
"It helps when they are going in. It builds a little confidence," Ward said. "I have been working on my game a lot and my 1-on-1 game. ... The guys are leaving me open and my teammates are finding me and as long as I continue to shoot the ball well, hopefully our team can be successful."
"I thought Kurt did an excellent job getting himself psyched up and Charlie's had a hell of a playoff," Johnson said.
The Knicks continue to give the impression that they play better when they are shorthanded, facing adversity or both. In addition to the injuries to Ewing and Sprewell, reserve forward Marcus Camby played despite a sprained medial capsule in his right knee suffered in Game Three, contributing five points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
"You have to give all the credit to Jeff," Thomas said. "He prepared us to go without Latrell. He prepared us to go without Patrick, Marcus. He just said, 'Whatever guys that we have, we just have to go out there and give it everything that we have.'" Allan Houston scored 17 points for the Knicks, who came out blazing and eventually cooled off, finishing at 49 percent (35-of-71). They held a 41-32 rebounding advantage, with Johnson grabbing seven.
Miller scored 24 points and Rose added 15 of his 18 in the second half for the Pacers, who heated up as the game progressed, finishing at 46 percent (36-of 79). Smits added 13 points and Best 12.
"I liked how we played in the second half," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "I thought we battled them, got it down to one. ...
But we just didn't play in the first half."
The Knicks did not learn until pregame warmups that Ewing would not play but were undeterred. They shot a blistering 79 percent (14-of-18) and sped to a 33-19 lead, scoring 20 points on layups and dunks. Johnson (9), Ward (7) and Thomas (6) combined for 22 points as New York had its biggest quarter of the postseason.
"They did a great job of getting out on the break," Miller said.
"They got a lot of transition buckets and they were attacking the basket."
New York cooled off in the second quarter, but just slightly.
After Indiana scored the first eight points, Houston came alive.
He scored eight points in the period, including a jumper and 3-pointer around a basket by Sprewell that opened a 57-40 halftime advantage.
After allowing the Knicks to shoot 66 percent (22-of-33) in the first half, the Pacers began to play some defense and got back in it behind Rose and Smits. Rose scored nine points and Smits seven in the third quarter and a 3-pointer by Miller made it 71-63 with 1:09 left.
"We are up 17 and we just came out and the first four or five minutes didn't play," Johnson said.
Indiana kept pecking away in the fourth quarter. Baskets by Miller and Rose opened the period and cut the deficit in half.
New York rebuilt the lead to eight points, but Rose made consecutive jumpers and found a wide-open Miller for a left-wing transition 3-pointer that made it 77-76 and had Madison Square Garden groaning.
But Johnson answered and the Pacers never got any closer.
"The momentum was kind of changing a little bit," Miller said.
"If he missed that shot, it probably comes off long, we get a fast break. But you know, he knocked it down."