With the New York Knicks' victory Monday night, the face of the NBA Finals took on a new look heading into Game 4 Wednesday night.
Though the Knicks trail the San Antonio Spurs 2-1, their confidence has been resurrected. The Spurs, who rebounded from their only postseason loss -- Game 2 of the first round -- with a 12-game winning streak, are equally confident, but the swagger they had after opening the series with two convincing victories at home has turned into a battle stance.
"It's not out of control and it's not in control," Spurs center Tim Duncan said. "It's right there where it can swing either way."
Said Knicks guard Allan Houston, who scored 34 points in Game 3: "We knew we would get a win and get more than one. It's just a matter of playing like we're capable."
The Knicks said the sense of urgency in their 89-81 victory actually has been enhanced. If they fall behind 3-1, they will be on the cusp of elimination and in a hole that would require them to win three straight games -- the final two in San Antonio.
Therefore, they said they will revisit the offensive aggressiveness that got them to the foul line 30 times in Game 3 and the defensive intensity that helped create 20 San Antonio turnovers, which led to 18 points.
"We know we're going to come out strong tomorrow," Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Hopefully we can do the same thing, from an energy-wise standpoint offensively."
Houston and Latrell Sprewell have carried the Knicks offensively, averaging 47 points combined -- five more than San Antonio's tandem of Duncan and David Robinson.
"Those guys obviously are dominant," Van Gundy said.
Until forward Larry Johnson poured in 16 points in Game 3, no other Knicks player had produced much on the offensive end. That, and the failure to reach the foul line, were the pitfalls that set back New York.
"If we have Larry Johnson, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby involved, we have a good chance," said Sprewell, who is averaging 23 points in the series.
The Spurs don't appear fazed but they are now aware New York won't go away quietly. Even so, while crediting the Knicks, some San Antonio players said their failure to set up passes while Duncan and Robinson were cutting through the lane, coupled with the team's careless ballhandling, caused the loss.
"We really didn't play a bad game except for the turnovers and a lot of that was my fault," Spurs guard Avery Johnson said. "This is a strange day for us after a loss. It is not a good feeling."
The Knicks also benefited from generous officiating, some Spurs players said. "Now the league got what they wanted," Spurs guard Mario Elie said. "No sweep."