Not even Patrick Ewing, the self-styled Nostradamus of pivotmen, would have dared to predict it. Ewing's New York Knicks are on a postseason rampage, having finished a second-round sweep of the Atlanta Hawks on Monday to become the first eighth-seeded team to reach a conference final. But can the Go-Go Knicks keep the magic alive against the slo-mo Indiana Pacers? Logic says no way. Second-seeded Indiana blew out New York in two of three regular-season meetings, absorbing only a one-point loss at Madison Square Garden when Ewing had a flashback to the late 1980s and scored a season-high 37 points.
Now Ewing is hobbled by a sore left Achilles, which has rendered him as immobile as a scarecrow in a Hoosier cornfield. Through Monday he was averaging only 13.1 points in these playoffs, far off his 22.2 career mark in the postseason, and his rebounding numbers had dropped as well (to 9.0 from 10.6). The Pacers' Dunkin' Dutchman, Rik Smits, could wear wooden shoes and still go for 20 against Ewing's backup, Chris Dudley.
How in the world are the Knicks going to stop point guard Mark Jackson? In Indiana's second-round elimination of New York last year, the 6'3" Jackson posted up smaller guards Charlie Ward and Chris Childs at will. Slowly backing them into the low post like a beer truck making a Garden delivery, Jackson would then either score or dish the ball to one of his cutting teammates for an easy deuce. Throw in Reggie Miller's status as a proven Knicks killer and the two big bodies, 6'7" Jalen Rose and 6'10" Derrick McKey, that Indiana has to throw at Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, respectively, and it's easy to see why the Pacers are heavy favorites. They're just too deep, too experienced and too hungry.
Still, there's something about this New York team—and this wacky lockout-shortened season—that should give Indy pause. The Knicks are peaking at the right time. Sprewell is playing like an All-Star, and he has helped Allan Houston raise his game. Also, New York knows the Pacers well, having met them in the postseason four times in six seasons. The only team the Knicks know better is the Heat, and we all know what happened to Miami when it met up with New York two weeks ago.
Former general manager Ernie Grunfeld built the Knicks partly with Indiana in mind. The 6'6" Sprewell is now available to play Jackson in the post, much the way the Bulls used Scottie Pippen to shut down Jackson in last year's playoffs. Camby has the size and quickness to keep Pacers forward Antonio Davis from dominating the boards. In short, this isn't the same old New York team, the one that Ewing has repeatedly (and vainly) predicted would win a title. Since the ax fell on Grunfeld, the Knicks have played like a team on a mission. For their coach. For themselves. For destiny.
New York in six. Just watch. Even Ewing will be surprised.