The New York Knicks were determined, creative and daring, but they were still overmatched tonight in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Coach Jeff Van Gundy's best scheming and plotting, plus the all-court play of Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, kept the Knicks close for most of the night. But San Antonio's Twin Towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson, prevailed again for an 80-67 victory before 39,554 at the Alamodome.
Duncan totaled 25 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Robinson recorded 16 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. Together they led the Spurs to their league-record 12th consecutive playoff victory and a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, which resumes Monday at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks put themselves in position to give San Antonio a run in the fourth quarter, but gave up consecutive baskets to Sean Elliott and Robinson in the final three seconds of the third quarter to turn a three-point San Antonio lead into a seven-point lead in the blink of an eye.
Sprewell led the Knicks with 26 points and seven rebounds, and Houston scored 19. But they were the only two New York players to reach double figures and the Knicks made just 32.9 percent of their shots. New York's struggle on offense nullified good defense and rebounding.
"Our effort level and our mental state is fine," Van Gundy said. "But nothing comes easy with those two guys [Robinson and Duncan] in there [defensively]. They had nine blocks between them. We have to have our three main guys [Sprewell, Houston and Larry Johnson] and get some unexpected scoring.
The Knicks didn't even get much from Johnson tonight, though; he made just 2 of 12 shots and scored only five points.
San Antonio's inside dominance is apparent to anybody watching. Even the unassuming Duncan could not help but comment on the primary reason his team leads this series.
"Not only is Pat [Ewing] down and LJ hobbled," he said, "but now [Chris] Dudley is hurting, too. It's got to be tough for them because our size is so much more than theirs."
Still, the Knicks were able to outrebound the bigger Spurs for the second straight game (43-41 in Game 2). But New York had no way to stop Duncan and Robinson from scoring or blocking their shots. Van Gundy left the arena asking, "How can we be more efficient, offensively? . . . Their shot-blocking presence really affects the quality of [our] shots."
If the Knicks can't find an answer to their coach's question in a hurry, this series won't make it back to San Antonio for Game 6.
The Spurs haven't lost a game since the second game of the first round, against Minnesota. Only the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers have won 11 straight playoff games. Neither the first Chicago Bulls "Threepeat" team (1991-93) nor the second (1996-98) was able to sweep consecutive best-of-seven series, as San Antonio has already done this postseason.
The Knicks knew coming in that to stop that streak down here they would have to play perhaps their best game of the postseason, and do it with Ewing sidelined, with Johnson limping around on a sprained knee, and with Dudley nursing a hyperextended elbow.
"I don't know what happened to it," Dudley said. "I landed on it, I came back and I think someone landed on me. . . . I can't really straighten it. It hurts, I'm on anti-inflammatories, and hopefully once the swelling goes down I'll get some movement." Dudley played just 13 minutes but he contributed six rebounds. Strong work on the boards is a must because the Knicks need additional chances, shooting this poorly.
They shot a horrendous 29.8 percent the first half. Johnson missed seven of his eight shots and Sprewell missed 8 of 12. The only New York player who shot the ball with any degree of efficiency was Allan Houston who hit five of his 10 shots before intermission. It was the rebounding that allowed the Knicks to be within 39-34 at halftime. The Spurs didn't get their first offensive rebound of the game until midway through the third quarter.
Early on the game began to follow a distinct pattern: the Spurs would build a lead of between seven and 11 points, only to have the Knicks get within a couple of baskets. After San Antonio led 49-38, the Knicks got a three-pointer from Charlie Ward, a twisting jumper from Houston, a pair of free throws from Sprewell and all of a sudden they were within 49-45.
After getting to 52-49, the Knicks agonized through what could have been a back-breaking sequence. With 2.5 seconds left in the third quarter, Elliott scored on a baseline drive while being fouled, which by itself was bad enough. But the Knicks compounded their mistake by failing to grab the rebound on Elliott's missed free throw, allowing Duncan to swoop in for the stick back that made the Spurs lead 56-49 going into the fourth.
"Those kinds of plays," Van Gundy said, "are the ones we're having a tough time with."
CAPTION: David Robinson (16 points, 11 rebounds) shoots over Marcus Camby. Spurs set a record by winning their 12th straight postseason game.
CAPTION: Larry Johnson, playing on a sprained right knee, goes 43 minutes, but scores just five points on 2-of-12 shooting.