TORONTO -- Resilient as ever, the New York Knicks didn't even need Marcus Camby to beat the Toronto Raptors.
Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Charlie Ward hit several clutch shots in the fourth quarter Sunday as the Knicks shrugged off the absence of their leading rebounder and shot blocker and defeated Toronto 97-89.
"When things aren't going well, we respond. Today was another opportunity to do that," Knicks guard Mark Jackson said.
The Knicks made up for their lack of height by making the most of every possession. They shot 53 percent from the field, held the lead for all but a few moments and performed down the stretch like a playoff-tested team.
After Toronto pulled within two points with 1:46 left, the Knicks scored the next six points - two each by Sprewell, Houston and Ward - to lock up the victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Game 4 is Wednesday night.
Houston finished with 24 points, Sprewell had 20 and Glen Rice 18. Ward scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter for the Knicks, who always seem to play their best when the circumstances are most dire.
"We've had a lot of experience when we've had to be resilient. Our experiences in the past have just made us stronger, and we have guys who have been through it before," Houston said. "Everybody had a look in their eyes, even on the plane ride up here yesterday. We knew it wasn't going to be easy but we knew how important this game was."
This time, the Knicks had to overcome the absence of Camby as he continues to try to recover from the trauma of having his mother and two sisters held hostage last Monday. A suspect has been charged with sexually assaulting one of Camby's sisters.
"I don't know if Marcus is coming back," coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
Antonio Davis scored 21 points and Vince Carter had 20 for the Raptors, who shot just 5-for-17 in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks shot 10-for-17 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line in the fourth while committing just one turnover.
The Knicks held an eight-point lead, 82-74, with just over five minutes left, but Keon Clark scored six straight points - four on foul shots - to pull Toronto within two points with 4:04 left.
Carter had a chance to tie with 21/2 minutes left, but he missed a jumper and Oakley threw away the offensive rebound. The Knicks worked the ball to Houston for a short turnaround jumper and an 88-84 lead with 2:02 left.
Sprewell restored a four-point lead by making two foul shots with 1:33 left, then forced Carter to take a shot from a poor angle that hit the top of the backboard.
Houston then hit another jumper, Carter missed a layup and a putback and Ward knocked down two free throws to give New York a 94-86 lead with 50 seconds left.
"We fought like hell to catch up and it took a lot out of us," Carter said. "To win in the playoffs, you have to play a complete game like we did in Game 2."
The Knicks got off to a fast start and Carter picked up two fouls in the first 31/2 minutes, taking the crowd out of the game. Toronto committed five fouls and had five turnovers in the first six minutes and quickly fell behind by nine.
Carter picked up a technical foul for shoving Jackson in the chest early in the second quarter, and Houston made the free throw to give the Knicks their first double-digit lead, 30-20.
Carter scored only one point in the second quarter, and the Raptors continued to trail until early in the third quarter, when Carter hit two free throws and a 3-pointer and Davis scored on a post-up following two offensive rebounds to make it 54-54.
New York responded with a 6-0 run and took a 68-67 lead into the fourth quarter, but Toronto finally took its first lead on a 23-foot jumper by Alvin Williams with 10:27 left. The Knicks regained the lead on a 3-pointer by Ward that made it 73-72, and they never trailed again.
"We were small there for a long time - I think 48 minutes," Van Gundy said. "I thought we played one of our best games of the year, and that's what we needed to beat a very good team."
NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game and said the league will look to reduce the amount of off days during the first round when the league's next television contract begins in the 2002-03 season. ... The game was delayed for six minutes in the first half after lamp oil spilled at center court during a performance by a fire-eater. Strangely enough, the fire-eater took a cigarette break at halftime and asked if anybody had a light.
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