Star center Patrick Ewing and his versatile backup Marcus Camby were missing, but Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston filled the gap as the Knicks defeated Indiana 98-95 in game three of the National Basketball Association Eastern Conference finals.
With Ewing on the bench thanks to a sprained foot suffered in the game two defeats, Camby lasted just five minutes of game three before injuring his knee. That left the Knicks to rely on the guard tandem of Sprewell and Houston to pull away for a 98-95 victory over the Pacers.
The unlikely victory was New York's first of the series and set up a pivotal Game Four at Madison Square Garden on Monday.
"The team even amazes me," said New York's Charlie Ward. "To have these things happen to us and still keep fighting against the odds."
Ewing's injury raised the ghost of last year, when he missed the last four games of the 1999 conference finals against Indiana -- when Camby emerged as a force on both backboards and helped New York win in six games.
Camby figured to be instrumental Saturday but played only five minutes before suffering a sprained medial capsule in the second quarter.
He was helped off the court and taken to hospital for an MRI, which showed no ligament damage. Both are day-to-day, meaning they could play Monday if their injuries show improvement.
Center Chris Dudley and forward Kurt Thomas combined to limit Smits to four points in the second half, when Sprewell and Houston took charge of the offense as they did during New York's run to the NBA Finals last year.
"Even when we were down 0-2 the whole team felt that we should not have been in this position," Houston said. "We dug ourselves a hole, and we can't worry about that."
Sprewell scored 32 points, 18 in the second half. He scored New York's first three baskets of the final period as the Knicks built an 81-68 lead with 6:36 remaining.
Houston scored 28 points, including 15 in the first half, to keep the Knicks in it. He had a basket and two free throws before a jumper by Sprewell gave New York a 91-79 lead with 2:23 left.
Jalen Rose scored 22 of his 26 points in a fruitless fourth quarter for the Pacers, who could have moved within one win of their first NBA Finals appearance but have to be wondering what they must do to get past the Knicks.
In the 1994 conference finals, Indiana squandered a 3-2 series lead, losing two close games. Last year, the Pacers twice gave away home-court advantage and failed to take advantage of the absence of Ewing.
To Pacers coach Larry Bird's eye, Indiana looked more like a team that was trailing, rather than one with a golden opportunity to put the series all but out of New York's reach –- NEW YORK (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)