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Updated: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 12:13 AM EST
NBA RECAP
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New York 96, San Antonio 95
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
San Antonio Spurs
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NEW YORK KNICKS
New York Knicks
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NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Michael Doleac did just enough to distract Tim Duncan.

With Doleac's hand in his face, Duncan narrowly missed a potential game-winning shot, allowing the New York Knicks to hold on for a 96-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in a rematch of the 1999 NBA Finals that had playoff intensity.

After Duncan gave the Spurs a 95-94 advantage on a banker and foul shot with 6.8 seconds to play, the Knicks called timeout. Stephen Jackson was too aggressive defending Allan Houston on the ensuing inbounds pass, sending the league's No. 1 free-throw shooter to the line with 5.4 seconds left.

Houston, who has struggled from the line in clutch situations in the past, calmly sank both free throws, with the second attempt bouncing off the front of the rim before dropping.

"It felt good," Houston said of the second free throw. "At that point you just want to leave your hand up there. I did not want to jerk my hand back. I was trying to get a shooter's bounce."

After a timeout, the inbounds pass went to Duncan near the left corner, and he quickly dribbled past Travis Knight into the lane. Just as Duncan was about to launch a hook shot, Doleac came into view, and the reigning MVP had to re-adjust his shot. The ball bounced off the left side of the rim and fell out, and David Robinson narrowly missed grabbing the rebound for a tip.

"I thought it was good," Duncan said. "I got a clean look and honestly, when I let it go, I thought it was in. David said he mistimed it by a second. It bounced past his hand."

"We played well," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It was a great game, they made shots at the end. That's what wins games. Both teams played well."

Houston scored 28 points, including 9-of-9 from the line. Doleac added a season-high 16 points for the Knicks, who had split their six meetings with the Spurs since losing the 1999 NBA Finals in five games.

"It just felt good to be able to contribute to a good win and be out on the floor and be able to make some plays with the guys," said Doleac, who made 8-of-11 shots. "I was hitting my shots tonight and playing some better defense."

"Michael was great all night tonight," said Latrell Sprewell, who scored 12 points. "He was really shooting the ball well. I just said to him, 'Whatever you're doing, don't stop.'"

Duncan contributed 31 points and 17 rebounds and Jackson scored 19 points for San Antonio, which fell to 1-2 on its four-game road trip.

Robinson chipped in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in his final contest at Madison Square Garden, the site where the Spurs clinched the title.

"This place has been very special to me and my career," Robinson said. "It's been a great place to play, it's one of the best sports places to play and our championship memories are here. (But) it's a tough way to go out."

New York's Clarence Weatherspoon and San Antonio's Kevin Willis were ejected for fighting late in the third quarter after Weatherspoon shoved Willis into a woman in the front row and Willis responded with a punch that did not connect, firing up the Garden crowd.

"That got the fans pumped up," Sprewell said. "They were cheering Clarence as he went off the court. From that point it was an intense game. They wanted us to win."

The Knicks led at that point, 67-64, and took a 73-69 edge into the fourth quarter. The Spurs were sharper early in the final period and opened up an 88-82 lead after Duncan hit a bank shot with 4:09 left.

New York countered with a 9-0 run, taking a 91-88 lead on a 3-pointer by Sprewell with 2:47 to play. Duncan then hit a jumper and two free throws to give San Antonio a 92-91 lead with 1:24 to play before Bruce Bowen was called for a foul on Sprewell eight seconds later.

After Sprewell nailed the first free throw to tie the game, Popovich was whistled for a technical foul for arguing the foul call on Bowen. Houston made the technical free throw to give New York a 93-92 lead before Sprewell missed his second free throw.

Doleac then blocked a jumper by Duncan with 54 seconds remaining, and after Kurt Thomas missed a jumper, Charlie Ward stole the ball from Duncan with 16 seconds left, and Sprewell was fouled three seconds later.

But Sprewell made only 1-of-2 attempts from the line, and Duncan gave the Spurs their last lead with 6.8 seconds to play.

"It was a back-and-forth game," Duncan said. "Both teams fight very hard to get where we were at the end. It's unfortunate how it ends up."

San Antonio began the game on a 15-3 run, but New York climbed within 23-19 by the end of the first quarter and took a 45-42 lead into halftime. Shandon Anderson scored 11 of his 14 points in the first half and fellow reserves Doleac and Ward each added eight.

"I thought our bench played a huge part in the turnaround," Knicks coach Don Chaney said. "We came in with Doleac, Anderson and Ward. I thought our energy level and our aggression picked up. I thought our effort and our aggression really got us going and got us more focused."


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