Marcus Camby took a bounce pass, rammed down the dunk and hung there, rocking high on the rim like a kid on a swing. The whistle blew, the Miami Heat's Alonzo Mourning got called for a foul, the 15,036 fans at Miami Arena went mute, and the Heat players began, right then, to understand that this might not be their day. It was late in the second quarter of the New York Knicks' 95-75 runaway upset last Saturday, and now the 6'11", 225-pound Camby, recently considered too soft to factor into the macho design of any Heat- Knicks showdown, had hurled himself into the thick of their playoff opener. Somewhere between dangling over Mourning and completing the three-point play, the whippet-thin Camby even tried to intimidate Miami's bruising center by staring him down.
"I just gave him a look," Camby said later with a laugh, "and Steve Javie, the ref, told me to stop looking at him."
So it wasn't a body slam or a whistling right hook. Give Camby time. This was his postseason debut following two dry seasons with the Toronto Raptors, and if he hasn't yet picked up the rougher points of the NBAs most intense rivalry, he already knows he may never again experience a series so negatively charged. After an ejection-filled brawl helped New York trip Miami in the first round last season, the Knicks' road win on Saturday put them in prime position to heap even more ignominy on the Heat. Only once in 15 postseasons has a No. 8 seed humbled a No. 1. "It feels good to be playing for something," the 25-year-old Camby said. "This game was so emotional. You can just touch and feel it when you're out there. The crowd, the atmosphere, the fact it's on national TV: It's put up or shut up now. That's our mind-set."
A month ago the idea of Camby presuming to speak for the Knicks would have been laughable. After two underachieving seasons in Toronto, Camby, the No. 2 pick in the 1996 draft, was traded to New York last June for the immensely popular (and relentlessly physical) Charles Oakley. He arrived in New York out of shape and was coolly received by fans, teammates and coach Jeff Van Gundy. He rode the bench for much of the season's first half—playing a total of five minutes in the Knicks' first two regular-season games against Miami—and then found his limited role publicly raised as a point of contention between Van Gundy and Ernie Grunfeld, New York's president and general manager, before Grunfeld was relieved of his duties on April 21.
Camby worked himself into shape and into the playing rotation, complementing Latrell Sprewell's scoring on the second unit with both energy and stiff defense. His 15-point, seven-rebound performance proved instrumental in New York's season-saving 82-80 win in Miami on April 25, and last Saturday his 11-point, six-rebound stint highlighted weaknesses in the Heat's reserve corps and gave pause to all those Knicks fans still pining for Oakley.
"I don't really care about what people think," Camby said. "The team I was with last year is home watching us right now, and I'm in the playoffs. I'm having fun."