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Original Issue

The Vault

EXCERPT | June 28,1999

Finals Goodbye

The Knicks' lastshot at a title was ruined by the Spurs

Given the Knicks'present streak of eight seasons without winning a playoff game, it's hard torecall a time when they were a championship contender. In the team's last tripto the NBA Finals—when it was coached by current ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy—itwent as an upstart eighth seed facing the imposing Spurs. This Phil Taylorstory was written after Game 3, which would be the only game that New Yorkwon.

Gregg Popovichloosened his tie and leaned back in his office chair last Friday, an hour afterthe Spurs had gone up two games to none over the Knicks in the NBA Finals. Butdespite his body language, Popovich, the San Antonio coach, was anything butrelaxed. While the fans outside the Alamodome were chanting for a sweep,Popovich was thinking of the hazards that lay ahead.

His uneasy feelingwas well-founded. The Knicks revived themselves—and breathed life into theseries—with an 89--81 victory at Madison Square Garden on Monday. New York wonlargely because coach Jeff Van Gundy made a strategic shift. He stationed thetwo Knicks being guarded by Tim Duncan and David Robinson near the three-pointarc, drawing the Spurs' 7-footers away from the basket. With neither SanAntonio big man clogging the lane, Knicks guards Allan Houston and LatrellSprewell found it easier to get inside, and were also able to draw fouls ontheir smaller defenders.

There wasoff-the-court intrigue as well. Sprewell spent part of his week denying an SIreport that he had told teammates that he wants to be traded to the Hawks ifVan Gundy returns next season. The coach, though, was mainly concerned with thetask at hand. Now, Van Gundy said, "we have to decide if we just want toavoid a sweep, or if we believe we can win this series."

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SCORING SPRE Amid reports that he was unhappy with Van Gundy, Sprewell fought through the Spurs' defense and averaged 26.0 points in the Finals.