The New York Knicks today tried to answer obvious questions that don't have obvious solutions, if they have solutions at all.
How, with Patrick Ewing sidelined and Larry Johnson hobbling, do they plan to keep Tim Duncan and David Robinson from owning the area close to the basket? If the Knicks double-team Duncan, can they survive another long-range shooting onslaught from Jaren Jackson? The Knicks want to do more than shoot jumpers, but how can they score inside with Duncan and Robinson lying in wait? Can Johnson play more effectively on his sprained right knee than he did in Game 1? Can the Knicks stop the Spurs from rampaging through these NBA Finals?
The most overused word in playoff basketball is "adjustments." And the Knicks have plenty to make in the wake of their Game 1 loss to the Spurs at the Alamodome. The Spurs will be looking for an NBA-record 12th consecutive playoff victory. "They don't have to adjust; they've won 11 in a row," Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy said today. "For us, coming in we knew we had to do things differently because of our [injury] situation."
The Spurs have had trouble in each Game 2 of the playoffs, including losing their only game to Minnesota at home. San Antonio's coaches and players spent most of today's discussion figuring out how to avoid another Game 2 letdown.
But the Knicks had many more concerns. Van Gundy said he has considered putting 6-foot-11 forward Marcus Camby into the starting lineup, but Johnson's sprained knee has affected that decision, too. "If Larry is going to play," Van Gundy said, "he needs to be in the starting lineup because he gets loose [during pregame warmups]. To ask him to go back over there [to the bench] and let him tighten up is sort of defeating the purpose." But at 6-6, Johnson, New York's hero in the six-game Eastern Conference finals against Indiana, is far too small to guard the 7-0 Duncan or the 7-1 Robinson. And Johnson's injury leaves him too slow to keep up with San Antonio's Sean Elliott.
So what about double-teaming Duncan, whose 33 points and 16 rebounds shredded the Knicks in Game 1? "The way Duncan's playing right now," Van Gundy said, "there's not one person on the planet who can stop him. He's the best player in the NBA. If you double him, he's a great, great passer. If you front him, Robinson throws the high-low pass [over a New York player's head down to Duncan] as good as anybody. . . . I'm just thinking about this; that's pretty good."
Pretty good for San Antonio, bad for the Knicks. But Van Gundy is too obsessive in studying videotape not to come up with something that can help his team in Game 2. "I don't know what it's going to be, whether it will be a double team or a bit of a different look," Duncan said. "I don't know what they're going to do but I do expect them to change it."
The first thing the Knicks have to do is stay out of foul trouble. Johnson and Camby were in and out of the lineup in Game 1 because of early foul trouble. But look for Camby and Chris Dudley to play straight up against Duncan and Robinson. It's Van Gundy's strong belief that Jackson's five three-pointers did the Knicks more harm than Duncan's inside dominance. "We said coming in that the biggest thing for us is not to give them everything," Van Gundy said, "and what happened was Jaren Jackson . . . beat us."
It was the first time in this postseason that the Knicks lost Game 1. They took control of previous series by winning the first game against Miami, Atlanta and Indiana. "They took the first game in a couple of the other series," Robinson said of the Knicks. "But one game doesn't kill anybody's confidence. You know, it might wake them up a little bit but it's not going to kill their confidence."
The only team to have success against San Antonio -- the Timberwolves, who lost to the Spurs 3-1 in the first round -- had 6-11 Kevin Garnett, 6-11 Dean Garrett and 6-10 Joe Smith across the front line to deal with Duncan. "The best way is to have size on him and size coming to help," Van Gundy said.
But with Ewing still in a walking cast -- "I miss being out there," he said. "It's hard sitting there watching, not being able to help them" -- the Knicks don't have much size to begin with, and certainly don't have much coming to help.
CAPTION: Spurs center Tim Duncan, getting the ball past Kurt Thomas in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, is "a great, great passer," says Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy.
CAPTION: Unfortunately for the Knicks, Larry Johnson isn't at his most flexible because of a knee sprain.