NBA Playoff Recap (San Antonio-New York)
Posted: Sat June 26, 1999 at 2:24 a.m EDTSAN ANTONIO 78, NEW YORK 77
NEW YORK (Ticker) -- There is a new order in the NBA, and it is a tall one.
"Twin Towers" Tim Duncan and David Robinson led the San Antonio Spurs to their first NBA championship, obliterating any glimmer of hope for the New York Knicks with their size, strength and skill.
The Spurs defeated the Knicks, 78-77, wrapping up the NBA Finals in five games. In a fitting end, they won with defense as Duncan and Robinson cast their imposing shadow over Knicks guard Latrell Sprewell, whose last-second shot was an airball.
The miss silenced Madison Square Garden, a familiar sound for the Spurs. They clinched all four of their playoff series on the road, becoming the first team since the 1989 Detroit Pistons to do so.
Duncan, the second-year superstar, was named Most Valuable Player. He finished with 31 points and nine rebounds and was absolutely unstoppable throughout the series, averaging 27.4 points and 14 rebounds as he affirmed his status as the game's best player.
"They didn't think it was as important to me just because it was my second year," Duncan said. "I knew the importance of this. I knew how special it would be. I know how special it is. I feel great for some of the other guys, but myself, I was -- it's beyond words."
When told Duncan was MVP, Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy replied, "Oh really? That's a shock right there. ... He's obviously the best player in the NBA."
Robinson, the 10-year veteran superstar who reduced his offensive role to accommodate Duncan, contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds as he finally won an elusive championship, reminding everyone that sometimes, nice guys finish first.
"It was a long ways," Robinson said. "Achieving that goal has been met. If it was easy, it really wouldn't be worth the journey. That's what makes it so special."
"It feels great," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's kind of stunning. You wonder if it's really true. You wonder what you're doing here. You just feel grateful to have a great group of guys."
The winning shot was an 18-footer from the left corner with 47 seconds left by Avery Johnson, the diminutive point guard who answered the critics who said he could not lead the Spurs to a title. But as they did all season, San Antonio won with its intimidating defense, holding New York scoreless for the final 3:12.
After a 6-8 start, the Spurs went 46-7 over the final four months. That included a sparkling 15-2 in the playoffs that matched the second-best record in NBA history and featured a record 12-game winning streak.
"We started out slow," Duncan said. "Everybody started turning their backs on us. As a group, we stayed together. We believed in each other."
"Ownership was patient enough not to worry about it, kick the coaches out of town, trade six players or anything like that," said Popovich, who doubles as general manager. "I'm sure even players at times said, `Wait a minute, what's the deal here?' But they stuck with it. If they didn't have the character they have, they wouldn't have. I'd be in Dodge somewhere."
The Spurs became the first of the four ABA teams that entered the league in 1976 to win a championship. They moved to San Antonio from Dallas in 1973 and were playing in the Finals for the first time.
The Knicks put up a tremendous fight. Both undermanned and undersized, they used the spectacular play of Sprewell and Allan Houston to push the Spurs as hard as they could. As the first eighth seed to reach the Finals, they just did not have enough size or strength to topple the "Twin Towers."
Sprewell scored a playoff career-high 35 points, 25 in the second half. Houston finished with 16 but did not score in the fourth quarter. New York shot 44 percent (32-of-72) but was outrebounded 40-35.
"I am very, very proud of them, everything they accomplished this year," said Van Gundy, who nearly was fired in April but guided the Knicks to their first Finals appearance in five years. "Hopefully when the pain of the loss wears off, they'll look back at the last 2 1/2, three months of the season and be very, very proud of not only what they accomplished but how they went about accomplishing it."
As it was throughout the series, Duncan and Robinson got some help and Sprewell and Houston didn't. Jaren Jackson scored 11 points and Mario Elie added 10 for the Spurs while no other Knick was in double figures.
Duncan and Sprewell dueled for most of the second half as a classic battle developed. Beginning late in the third period, Duncan scored 14 of San Antonio's 15 points while Sprewell had 14 in a row for New York.
"People had a hand in his face, he was 18, 19 feet out, just kept on hitting them," Duncan said. "It was kind of frustrating to see him do that, but we kept answering them."
"It was a close game," Sprewell said. "Nobody really wanted to lose. I think it showed. Both sides played really hard. I'm sure it was a fun game to watch."
Robinson made two free throws after an offensive rebound and added an inside spin move to keep the Spurs within a point with under five minutes to go. Sprewell made a tough jumper and a pair of foul shots after a head fake on Duncan, extending the lead to 77-75 with 3:12 to play.
But that was it for New York. Duncan split a pair from the line with 2:33 remaining and both teams tightened up before Johnson delivered the game-winner. Sprewell and Johnson traded misses, setting up the final possession with 2.1 seconds left.
Sprewell flashed through the lane and took a pass too deep under the basket. He immediately was blanketed by Duncan and Robinson and tried to spin away but came up short -- as so many have against San Antonio's height.
"I was just so far under the basket," Sprewell said. "With their size coming down on me, I didn't have the layup like we planned on."
"Our assistant called the play," Spurs forward Sean Elliott said. "We knew what was coming. ... We used that play three about four years ago to beat three or four teams. And I think we called the play `New York.'"
As they did in Game Four, the Knicks stumbled at the outset of the third quarter, going 4 1/2 minutes without a basket. Jackson had a layup and 3-pointer and Elie made two free throws for a 47-38 lead with 9:06 left.
But then the Spurs went cold and the Knicks regained the lead with a 10-0 run. Sprewell took over, making five straight shots over the rest of the period with a variety of strong drives, headfakes and spin moves, igniting the Madison Square Garden crowd.
After a nine-minute delay caused by a malfunctioning shot clock, Houston hit a jumper to give the Knicks a 54-50 lead. Duncan, held scoreless in the second half to that point, collected seven quick points as the Spurs reclaimed the lead.
Both teams started slowly and Knicks center Marcus Camby got into foul trouble for the fourth time in the series, picking up two fouls in the first 3 1/2 minutes.
Sprewell collected three free throws and a layup in transition to give New York a 21-15 lead with 1:25 left in the first quarter. Duncan kept the Spurs close with six points and a pretty feed to a cutting Johnson for a layup in the final five minutes of the period, then opened the second quarter with a baseline jumper to cut the deficit to 23-22.
Duncan sat down and the Knicks stepped it up. Houston scored on a fast break to cap a 7-0 spurt that pushed the lead to eight points with 7:39 remaining in the first half.
For the third time in the series, the Knicks did a terrible job of closing out the half. After committing just two turnovers in the first 21 minutes, they had two more as the Spurs finished with a 10-2 flourish. Jackson, who sank a 3-pointer near the end of the first period, did the same to end the second and give San Antonio a 40-38 lead.
Robinson and Duncan combined for 15 rebounds over the opening 24 minutes, matching New York's total.
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