Originally created 05/17/99

Knicks edge Heat 78-77



MIAMI -- The ball was out of Allan Houston's hands, and so was the Knicks' fate. He had fired a running 14-foot jumper, and the ball hovered above the rim as the final seconds ticked away.

"It seemed like two minutes," Houston said.

Miami Arena turned quiet for the first time all day as a sellout crowd, the Heat and the Knicks held their breath. The shot bounced off the front of the rim, kissed off the backboard and finally fell softly through the net.

Knicks 78, Heat 77.

The last bounce, last shot and last game went New York's way Sunday. Thanks to Houston's basket with 0.8 seconds left, the Knicks won the first-round series 3-2.

The wild five-game melodrama had a fittingly frantic finish. New York kept possession with 4.5 seconds to go when Terry Porter nearly stole the ball from Latrell Sprewell but knocked it out of bounds. The Heat argued in vain that Sprewell touched the ball last, but the call went the other way.

Porter's desperation 40-footer at the buzzer was off-line, and for the second year in a row, the Heat's season ended at home against their fiercest rivals.

It was the third winner-take-all playoff game in the past three years between the teams. Miami eliminated New York in Game 7 in 1997; the Knicks beat the Heat in the deciding Game 5 last season.

"This one obviously hurts us a lot more than last year," Miami coach Pat Riley said. "Life in basketball has a lot of suffering in it, and we will suffer this one."

The Knicks became just the second eighth-seeded team in NBA history to defeat a No. 1 seed. They also may have saved the job of coach Jeff Van Gundy, who was expected to be fired if the Knicks lost.

"It's not about me at all. It's always been about the team," Van Gundy said. "I'm happy for the guys. They've been maligned all year, but they've stuck together."

The Knicks will next play the winner of the Detroit-Atlanta series. New York has reached the second round every year since 1992.

Houston wasn't New York's only hero. Patrick Ewing, already hobbled by a sore Achilles' tendon, hurt his side in the third period but still had 22 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes.

Ewing said he suffered either a pulled muscle or broken ribs and may require X-rays.

"If everything he iced after the game got reported on as an injury, there wouldn't be any room on the front page," Van Gundy said. "The courage he showed on the court today uplifts our whole team. I've always been a big fan of him. Because of the courage and heart he showed today, it's tenfold now."

Chris Childs, who wasn't expected to play because of a thigh bruise, came off the bench to spark a 13-0 run by the Knicks after they started slowly.

Alonzo Mourning led Miami with 21 points, including the basket that gave the Heat their final lead with 1:59 to go. When Porter's final shot missed, Mourning walked off the court with a scowl, hands clasped over his head in frustration.

"For it to come down to that kind of makes you angry a little bit," Mourning said. "Regardless of the outcome, I still feel we're a better team than they are."

Miami's loss could prompt Riley to dismantle his roster. Despite three consecutive Atlantic Division titles, the Heat have advanced beyond the opening round just once in his four years as coach.

"Everybody is searching for answers," Miami's Dan Majerle said. "Right now it's hard to think straight."

Miami led 77-74 before Ewing sank two free throws with 40 seconds left. Sprewell then knocked the ball away from Tim Hardaway, forcing the turnover that gave the Knicks their last chance.

Sprewell and Ewing tried to run a pick-and-roll on the right side, but the play did not go smoothly and Sprewell lost the handle while guarded by Porter.

"It was a close call," Porter admitted. "I think it did go off Spree."

Inbounding in front of the Heat bench with 4.5 seconds to go, Charlie Ward threw the ball to Houston at the top of the circle. Houston dribbled around Majerle, avoided Hardaway and jumped toward the basket, throwing up a one-hander from the corner of the lane that fell through.

"I thought I kind of short-armed it at first, but it hung up there," Houston said. "I got a friendly bounce from up above."

Houston was just 2-for-8 through three periods, but sank the biggest shot of his career.

"Not only did he make the shot with only a little time left, but the ball stayed on the rim and took some extra time off," Van Gundy joked.

P.J. Brown had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, but teammate Hardway was unable to shake his series-long shooting slump and scored just nine points, none in the second half.

Hardaway hit running 20-footer at the buzzer for a 41-37 halftime lead, then leaped and punched the air with his fist -- the first punch of the series. But he didn't score again, and his turnover led to Houston's game-winner.

"I put a lot on my shoulders," Hardaway said. "I wasn't able to produce the whole series, and I turned it over in the last 30 seconds and cost us the ballgame."